Violence flares as Israel strikes Gaza, Hamas fires rockets

Labor Party Chair Avi Gabbay

Labor Party Chair Avi Gabbay

Netanyahu said that after consultations with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and the IDF chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot it was chose to take "powerful action against Hamas terror".

Israel says it has struck dozens of Hamas military targets in northern Gaza in retaliation for assaults including more than 90 rocket attacks.

"If Hamas does not understand the message today, it will understand tomorrow", Netanyahu said in a video statement.

The protest organisers say the demonstrations aim to press demands such as for a right to lands lost to Israel in the 1948 war of its foundation and for an Israeli-Egyptian blockade to ease. They were evacuated to hospital in a moderate condition. One rocket landed inside a kibbutz in the Shar HaNegev Regional Council area.

Palestinian health officials said two people were killed and 12 injured in an air strike in Gaza City. Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian teenager and a second protester died of his wounds on Saturday, Gaza health officials said.

It said it fired toward a Palestinian who was attempting to infiltrate Israeli territory, but the incident appeared to be unrelated to the death of the teenager.

The exchange of fire followed months of tension that has raised the prospect of a fourth war in the blockaded Gaza Strip since 2008.

Palestinian media said the IDF had shelled the home of a senior Islamic Jihad leader, but there was no confirmation from the army.

On Friday, thousands of Palestinians gathered near the Gaza border for their near-weekly protest.

The Security Cabinet was to convene for an emergency meeting Sunday afternoon to deal with the escalating violence in Gaza. A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not respond to a request for comment.

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Nickolay Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, poses for a photo during the INSS conference in Tel Aviv, January 30, 2018.

There have also been hundreds of fires at Israeli farms caused by kites and balloons carrying firebombs from Gaza, leading to political pressure on the government and military to take action against Hamas. Nevertheless, the fire continued unabated.

Israel says Hamas has been orchestrating the weekly protests to distract from governance problems and provide cover for militants' cross-border attacks.

At least 141, mostly unarmed, Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since protests began on March 30. Residents of Israeli border communities spent the night in bomb shelters and were cautioned to remain close to the shelters during the day.

But witnesses told Reuters news agency an Israeli strike had hit an empty building in Gaza City and that the casualties were passers-by. The Israeli military claimed that its so-called Iron Dome missile defense system had managed to intercept 16 of the projectiles.

The IDF said aircraft had attacked "an offensive terror tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip, in addition to several terror sites in military compounds throughout the Gaza Strip, among them complexes used to prepare arson terror attacks and a Hamas terror organization training facility".

The military said its jets targeted two Hamas tunnels as well as other military compounds, including those involved in the spate of incendiary kite and balloon attacks.

The primary target of the IAF strikes Saturday was the Hamas battalion headquarters in Beit Lahia, in the north of the Strip, the army said.

The air force also attacked a Palestinian terrorist cell launching mortars. A police spokesman said no hits had been identified in the city.

The Israeli military said Hamas was responsible for a steady escalation of violence along the frontier.

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