Two Palestinians killed as Israeli jets pound Hamas targets in Gaza
JACK GUEZ (AFP/Archives)
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carried out a "large-scale attack" on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip overnight Saturday, in a flare-up sparked after Israeli soldiers were wounded by an explosive device along the Palestinian enclave's border.
Israeli jets pounded 18 Hamas targets throughout the Strip in two waves of air strikes over a 24-hour period.
"Eight targets were attacked in a military compound near Deir el Balah, which belongs to the Hamas terror organization, including weapon-manufacturing and training infrastructures," an IDF statement released early Sunday read.
An earlier statement said the fighter jets had targeted "six military targets in Gaza belonging to Hamas, including: a terror tunnel in the Zaytun area and military compounds near Deir el-Balah and Khan Yunis".
Two Palestinians were killed in the Israeli strikes, the Gaza health ministry said, identifying the fatalities as Salam Sabah and Abdullah Abu Sheikha, both 17, from Rafah.
According to Palestinian eye witnesses, the two were killed by shots near the border.
The Israeli army said that its forces had fired "warning shots" at a number of Palestinians approaching the border fence "in a suspicious manner".
Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, in a statement said they fired at the Israeli jets overhead. The IDF dismissed the claim.
Meanwhile, rocket alert sirens blared several times in Israeli communities along the Gaza border.
While some were later said to be false alarms, the army reported that a "launch was identified from the Gaza Strip at Israeli territory", with a projectile hitting a home in a southern Israeli community.
The overnight escalation followed a tense day between Israel and Gaza on Saturday, as a spate of violence broke out along the border.
Four IDF soldiers were wounded -- two seriously -- when an improvised explosive device blew up along the border in one of the most serious incidents on the border of the Hamas-ruled enclave since the Islamist movement and Israel fought a war in 2014.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a security conference in Munich called the Gaza border incident "very serious" and pledged to "respond appropriately".
- 'Rogue group' -
Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said a "rogue group" had claimed responsibility for the blast, likely indicating one of the more radical Islamist groups who are present in Gaza.
He insisted that "from our point of view Hamas is responsible" and said the explosive had been planted during a protest arranged by the group on Friday.
Israel holds the Islamist Palestinian movement Hamas responsible for any aggression emanating from the blockaded coastal enclave and responds, usually immediately, to any strikes on its territory.
Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008, and the last conflict in 2014 was waged in part over tunnels from Gaza that were used to launch attacks.
Israeli aircraft hit Hamas targets in the southern Gaza Strip repeatedly in early February, after it said Palestinians there fired a rocket into the Jewish state.
Tensions between the Palestinians and Israel have been high since US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state in December.
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