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Dozens of rockets fired from Gaza, Israeli response kills one

By AFP | May 4th 2019
Palestinian militants in Gaza fire a barrage of rockets at Israel, prompting retaliatory air strikes as a fragile ceasefire again falters

Gaza militants fired a barrage of dozens of rockets at Israel, which responded with strikes that killed a Palestinian on Saturday, officials said, as a fragile ceasefire again faltered.

The latest flare-up came with Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules the blockaded Gaza Strip, seeking further concessions from Israel under the ceasefire.

Israel said around 90 rockets were fired from the Palestinian enclave and its air defences intercepted dozens of them.

Police said a house near the Israeli city of Ashkelon close to the Gaza border was damaged, but no one was hurt. Other rockets hit open areas.

The Israeli army said it had targeted two rocket launchers in Gaza with an air strike in response and its tanks had hit a number of military posts used by Hamas.

A Gazan security source said that a series of Israeli strikes hit at least three separate areas of the Gaza Strip and that three "resistance fighters" were wounded.

The Gaza health ministry reported one person killed and several wounded.

No casualties had been reported on the Israeli side.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was planning to hold consultations with security chiefs, a spokesman said.

A statement from Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, allied to Hamas, claimed responsibility for at least some of the rocket fire and said it was prepared for more if necessary.

A source in the group said Egypt was engaged in discussions to calm the situation, as it has done repeatedly in the past.

Visit to Cairo

The escalation follows the most violent clashes along the Gaza border in weeks on Friday.

Four Palestinians, including two Hamas militants, were killed after two Israeli soldiers were wounded in a shooting during weekly protests on the border.

Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have fought three wars since 2008 and fears remain of a fourth.

A ceasefire between Israel and Hamas brokered by Egypt and the United Nations had led to relative calm around Israel's April 9 general election.

But on Tuesday, Israel reduced the offshore fishing limit it imposes for vessels operating out of Gaza after a rocket was fired from the territory.

Israel's army blamed Islamic Jihad for the rocket, which fell into the Mediterranean.

On Thursday, Israel said its aircraft struck a Hamas military compound after balloons carrying firebombs and explosives were launched across the border.

Palestinians in Gaza have frequently fitted balloons with firebombs in a bid to damage Israeli property and have in the past succeeded in setting fire to large areas of farmland.

Following the air strike, the Israeli military said two rockets were launched from Gaza toward Israel, setting off sirens in parts of the south.

With the ceasefire at risk, a Hamas delegation led by its Gaza head Yahya Sinwar left the enclave for Cairo on Thursday for talks with Egyptian officials on the truce.

The ceasefire has seen Israel allow Qatar provide millions of dollars in aid to Gaza to pay salaries and to finance fuel purchases to ease a severe electricity shortage.

Eurovision looms

Two factors may lead Israel to seek to calm the situation quickly after the latest flare-up.

Netanyahu is currently engaged in tough negotiations to form a new government following last month's election, while Israel is due to host the Eurovision song contest in Tel Aviv from May 14-18.

Palestinians have participated in regular demonstrations and clashes along the Gaza border for more than a year, calling on Israel to ease its crippling blockade of the enclave.

At least 270 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the protests began in March 2018, the majority along the border.

Two Israeli soldiers have been killed in that period.

Israel accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover to carry out attacks and says its actions are necessary to defend the border and stop infiltrations.

The results of a UN investigation released at the end of February found that Israel may have committed crimes against humanity in responding to the border protests, as snipers "intentionally" shot civilians including children, journalists and the disabled.

Israel rejected the report "outright" but Hamas called for Israel to be held accountable.

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