Israel strikes Gaza after scores of rockets fired from strip

The flare up follows a strike on Friday that killed two Hamas fighters

Israel fired artillery and launched air raids into Gaza on Saturday morning in response to what it said was scores of rockets launched out of the strip. The Israeli retaliation came amid escalating tensions after an air strike killed two Hamas members, and Israeli border forces shot two protesters on Friday.

Palestinian officials said four were killed in the Israeli strikes and 20 more injured.

Gaza's health ministry said a baby and her pregnant mother were killed in an air strike in Gaza City. A small armed pro-Hamas group in Gaza, The Protectors of Al Aqsa, said one of its men was killed in an air strike, while the health ministry said four bystanders were wounded. The Palestinian Education Ministry said it was evacuating schools in areas under Israeli bombardment.

The Israeli military said it struck some 120 targets in Gaza, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad military compounds, a Hamas rocket-manufacturing site and a "high-end Islamic Jihad tunnel" that it said stretched into Israel for use in attacks.

Late on Saturday, Israel struck a building that it said housed Hamas military intelligence offices in Gaza City. Another airstrike hit a six-story commercial and residential building. Journalists said the building housed the office of Turkey's news agency Anadolu. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

Shortly before mid-day, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu headed to the defence ministry for consultations with the chiefs of staff and intelligence heads on the situation in Gaza.

Video and pictures being shared on social media on Saturday showed smoke trails that appeared to be from Israeli Iron Dome anti-missile systems aimed at incoming rockets near the Gaza Strip. The Jerusalem Post quoted a spokesperson for the municipality of Ashkelon, near the embattled Palestinian enclave, as confirming that several rockets were intercepted by Israeli missile defences. The town’s mayor ordered all bomb shelters to be opened.

It also said that a rocket had hit a house in the town of Kissufim that lies just two kilometres from the edge of Gaza. It did not indicate if there had been any injuries.

A 15-year old was injured while headed to a bomb shelter in the town of Sderot, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Hamas would "continue to respond to the crimes by the occupation and it will not allow it to shed the blood of our people," its spokesman Abdel-Latif Al Qanoua said in a statement on Saturday. He made no explicit claim for Hamas having fired the rockets.

One of the attacks was claimed by the Palestinian Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), which said it fired rockets at the city of Ashkelon.

The flare-up comes just before the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. It also follows comments by senior White House adviser Jared Kushner that a US peace plan to be revealed after Ramadan would serve as a framework for resolving decades Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"What we will be able to put together is a solution that we believe is a good starting point for the political issues and then an outline for what can be done to help these people start living a better life," said Mr Kushner, who has spent two years working on the plan with the US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt.

However, Mr Kusher said it would not follow the long proposed two-state solution sought by the Palestinians, who are seeking an independent state comprising the Israeli-occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Israel has waged three wars on Gaza since Hamas took control of the territory in 2007. Israeli air strikes in retaliation for rockets from Gaza are a frequent occurrence.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group in Gaza said in a statement that the rocket barrages were a response to Friday's events and that Israel has been delaying the implementation of previous understandings brokered by Cairo.

The strikes were a response to gunfire from southern Gaza that wounded two Israeli soldiers, the Israeli military said.

Hamas, the group that rules the Palestinian enclave, said two members of its armed wing had been killed and three wounded when Israel bombed one of its positions in central Gaza.

The Hamas-run Al Quds Voice reported that a joint operation room for Hamas forces ordered all military units to be on standby on Friday evening after the Israeli airstrike killed the fighters.

Later on Friday, two Palestinians shot by Israeli troops while taking part in weekly protests along the border died of their wounds, Gaza health officials said.

The Israeli military said some 5,200 Palestinians had amassed along the frontier, but did not immediately provide further comment.

A medics worker helps a wounded youth, who was shot by Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, into the treatment room of Shifa hospital in Gaza City, Friday, May 3, 2019. Three Palestinians, including two militants, were killed by Israeli fire Friday after gunshots from the Gaza Strip wounded two Israeli soldiers, officials said, in a new flare-up that shattered a month-long easing of hostilities that was mediated by Egypt. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
A medics worker helps a wounded youth, who was shot by Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel. AP

The protesters are demanding an end to a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, and want Palestinians to have the right to return to land their families fled or were forced from during Israel's founding in 1948.

More than 200 Gazans have been killed by Israeli troops since the "Great March of Return" started on March 30 last year, according to Gaza health officials. Over 10,000 have been wounded, with many maimed by Israeli snipers. An Israeli soldier was also killed by a Palestinian sniper.

Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said Israel was prepared to intensify its attacks. He added that Islamic Jihad was trying to destabilise the border and blamed Hamas for failing to rein it in.

Islamic Jihad said in a statement that the rocket barrages were a response to Friday's events and that Israel has been delaying the implementation of previous understandings brokered by Cairo.

In a joint statement, Hamas and Islamic Jihad said: "Our response will be broader and more painful if the enemy pursues its aggression."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the Israeli actions in Gaza.

The European Union's ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, criticised the rocket attacks on Twitter, saying "firing indiscriminately against civilians [is] unacceptable."

Egyptian mediators, credited with brokering a ceasefire after a Hamas rocket attack north of Tel Aviv in March set off a burst of intense fighting, have been working to prevent fresh escalations.

Hamas said in a statement on Thursday that its Gaza chief, Yeyha Al Sinwar, had travelled to Cairo for talks on efforts to maintain calm along the border and alleviate Palestinian suffering.

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The UN's Middle East envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, said the organisation was working with Egypt to restore calm and called on all sides to "de-escalate" and restore recent understandings.

"Those who seek to destroy them will bear responsibility for a conflict that will have grave consequences for all," he said in a statement.

Some 2 million Palestinians live in Gaza, whose economy has suffered years of blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts. Unemployment stands at 52 per cent, according to the World Bank.

Palestinians take cover during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip May 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Palestinians take cover during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip. May 3

Israel says its blockade is necessary to stop weapons reaching Hamas. Cairo's mediation had helped persuade Israel to lift some restrictions on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza and expand the Mediterranean zone where Gazans can fish.

But Israel scaled back the zone this week in response to rocket fire from Gaza, a spokeswoman for its military liaison agency with the Palestinians said.

COGAT, the Israeli defence body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, said it was closing the fishing zone off Gaza's coast altogether and sealing Israel's two land crossings with Gaza. The crossings are used by Palestinian medical patients to enter and exit the territory, and provide the main entry for cargo into the blockaded territory.

Updated: May 5, 2019 11:06 AM

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