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Israel Responds To Hamas Mortar Barrage With Airstrikes In Gaza Strip

THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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Israel struck dozens of targets in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday after coming under a heavy barrage of mortar and rocket fire by Palestinian militants.

The Israeli military said it carried out over 35 airstrikes on seven sites across Gaza, including a cross-border tunnel controlled by Hamas and Islamic Jihad — the two primary militant groups in the Palestinian enclave — The Associated Press reported.

Beginning early Tuesday morning and continuing past nightfall, Palestinian militants launched roughly 70 projectiles toward southern Israel, according to the Israel Defense Forces. One mortar shell landed near a kindergarten just before it opened, and three IDF troops were injured in the bombardment.

The exchange of fire, which appeared to be the heaviest between Israel and Hamas militants since a 2014 war, comes after weeks of violent demonstrations on the Gaza border. Over 100 Palestinian protesters, some unarmed civilians and other Hamas operatives, have been killed by IDF troops since mid-May. Israel says it has opened fire on people attacking Israeli troops or attempting to breach a security fence under cover of protests, but human rights groups have accused it of using disproportionate force.

In a rare joint statement, Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed shared responsibility for Tuesday’s rocket and mortar attacks, saying they were a response to previous Israeli strikes on their positions, Agence France-Presse reported. It was the first time in more than three years Hamas has publicly acknowledged launching rocket attacks out of Gaza. (RELATED: Hamas Claims 50 Of 60 Killed On Gaza Border Were Terrorist Soldiers)

The U.N. has been deeply critical of Israel’s handing of the Gaza protests but this time denounced the Palestinian militants for putting Israeli civilians in harms way.

“It is UNACCEPTABLE to indiscriminately fire at civilian communities!” U.N. Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov wrote on Twitter. “I am deeply concerned by today’s rockets fired by Palestinian militants towards Southern Israel, one of which hit close to a kindergarten. Such actions undermine efforts to improve the situation in Gaza.”

The U.N. Security Council is expected to meet Wednesday to discuss the latest cross-border violence, following a request by U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley for an emergency session.

“The Security Council should be outraged and respond to this latest bout of violence directed at innocent Israeli civilians,” Haley, a staunch Israel supporter, said in a statement.

Tuesday’s exchange of fire was reminiscent of the beginning of the 2014 Hamas-Israel war, which devastated much of Gaza’s infrastructure and killed more than 2,000 Palestinians — including hundreds of civilians. The Israeli side suffered 72 deaths.

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