Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip attacked each other Saturday in what appeared to be the largest cross-border exchange of fire in several years, sparking concerns that the tense situation there is poised to deteriorate into a larger war.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it had struck more than 40 military targets belonging to Hamas, the militant Islamist group that governs Gaza. The strikes came in response to Friday protests at the Israel-Gaza border, where Palestinian demonstrators launched burning tires, stones, explosive devices and fire bombs at Israeli soldiers, the IDF said.
“The strike was conducted in response to the terror acts instigated during the violent riots along the security fence yesterday, in addition to the continuous arson attacks damaging Israeli land on a daily basis,” an IDF spokesperson wrote on Twitter.
Over the last hour, IDF fighter jets targeted dozens of military targets in four Hamas military compounds throughout the Gaza Strip. The focus of the wide-scale strike was a Hamas Battalion HQ in Beit Lahia pic.twitter.com/nDIxRA4ovn
— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) July 14, 2018
Palestinian militants fired more than 50 rockets and mortar rounds into southern Israel beginning Friday and continuing into Saturday in response to the Israeli strikes. At least six of the projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system, the IDF said.
In a rare statement of responsibility, Hamas said it had fired the rockets to deter further Israeli military action. The barrage was an “immediate response” meant to “deliver the message,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said, according to The Associated Press.
At least two Palestinians were killed by an Israeli air strike, health officials in Gaza said. In Israel, three Israelis wounded by Palestinian rockets.
Saturday’s exchange of fire, the heaviest since the 2014 Gaza war, fit a familiar pattern of violence that has set in over the past several months. In at least two previous episodes since late May, Israeli forces have carried out airstrikes in Gaza in response to a barrage of rocket and mortar fire by Palestinian militants. (RELATED: Israeli Warplanes Light Up Gaza In Response To Rocket Attacks)
The battles have intensified as protests along the Israel-Gaza border have stretched into a fourth month. Hamas is organizing the weekly demonstrations to draw attention to joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, which has caused widespread economic hardship in the territory. (RELATED: Netanyahu Blocks Trade To Gaza Strip To Crack Down On Hamas Militants)
Though most of the protesters are peaceful, a significant number have launched kites and balloons rigged with burning rags or incendiary devices that have burned thousands of acres of Israeli forests and cropland. Several demonstrators have turned out to be Hamas operatives attempting to penetrate security barriers and enter Israeli territory.
Even so, Israel has been accused of a disproportionate response to violent demonstrations. More than 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in the skirmishes, most recently a 15-year-old boy who was shot and killed by IDF live fire on Friday. (RELATED: 15-Year-Old Palestinian Shot To Death By Israeli Forces Near The Gaza Strip)
Israel says it has had to use live fire to defend its sovereign border and prevent attacks on civilians and soldiers by Hamas militants.
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