Israel and Gaza-based Palestinian militants launched retaliatory attacks on each other on Sunday and Egypt said that it had launched a failed bid to reach a ceasefire, following a day of deadly, escalated violence.

Nine militants and an Israeli civilian were killed on Saturday in a round of violence set off by a rocket attack earlier in the week. The exchange of fire continued overnight, with Palestinians firing 10 rockets fired into Israel in the early hours of the morning, and Israeli aircraft targeting six militant sites in Gaza, the military said.

Targets included three rocket-launching sites and a tunnel used by gunmen, an Israeli military statement said. Explosions were observed in several sites, it said, suggesting weapons sites were hit.

No casualties were reported by either side, but both sides braced for further attacks.

As a precautionary measure, Israeli officials closed schools in southern communities within 25 miles (40 kilometres) of Gaza, as well as Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba and several colleges, which were to have begun their academic year on Sunday, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. Police brought in reinforcements from other areas of the country.

More than 1 million Israelis live within the range of rockets possessed by Gaza militants.

In Gaza, militants who had been emboldened to remove their masks and emerge from their hideouts following a high-profile prisoner swap with Israel earlier in the month disappeared from the streets again. And Hamas scaled back its police deployment, apparently afraid that police positions would be targeted by Israeli aircraft.

Egyptian officials meanwhile said that they had tried to arrange a ceasefire that would have gone into effect at 3. a.m. (0100 GMT), but did not win agreement from factions responsible for the attacks.

Egypt has long been involved in mediating between Israel and Gaza militants, who do not speak directly to each other.

Militants from Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement are not believed to be involved in the attacks, which were claimed by smaller factions. But Israel holds Hamas ultimately responsible for all violence against it emanating from the territory.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that Israel would step up its retaliatory attacks if necessary, but in the meantime, defence officials said, Israel is holding back in an effort to keep the violence from escalating further.

The defence officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss military operations.

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