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Dawn could bring a new cycle of violence between Israel and Gaza

Trails of smoke are seen after the launch of rockets from the northern Gaza strip towards Israel Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

The next few hours should tell whether a new cycle of violence is under way along a border that is at the best of times balanced between war and peace.

And these have not the best of times.

The past few days have seen a sharp and deadly escalation in the exchange of hostilities between Israel and Gaza.

Today, Palestinian militants fired scores of rockets into southern Israeli.

Some were intercepted by Iron Dome, the Israeli missile defence system, but others found a target. Homes have been hit and schools closed.

Israel says its citizens in southern Israel are terrorised, scurrying for bomb shelters as the sirens sound repeatedly.

Israeli soldiers carry a small tent at a rocket shield site in Ashkelon, Gaza. Credit: Reuters

"The rockets have come in the morning, when children are being taken to school. They are deliberately targeting civilians,’’ says the Israeli Defence Forces spokesman.

In Gaza, Israeli air raids have killed four militants in the past 24 hours, and injured others.

Both sides claim to be the victims of aggression and neither seems ready to back down.

Indeed, the Israeli Prime Minister, in the middle of an election campaign, has vowed to toughen the response against further strikes.

So it will be an anxious wait to see whether dawn delivers more rockets and more retaliation.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

All this comes in a week that has promised great change for Gaza.

The Emir of Qatar arrived with a huge investment plan and ended the diplomatic isolation Gazans have lived under since Hamas took control in 2007.

The Emir’s mission seems to be to rid Gaza of the influence of Iran - a big sponsor of Hamas until the Sunni group fell out with Shiite Tehran over Syria.

Qatar also happens to host a US airbase and even maintains relations with Israel. So the shifting sands of allegiance might offer intriguing possibilities.

But the violence is a reminder that the conflict is unresolved, and as dangerous as ever.