Israel hits back after scores of rockets fired from Gaza

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have fired scores of rockets into southern Israel, wounding at least two Israeli civilians and triggering retaliatory air strikes and tank fire against militant targets and shattering a month-long lull in violence.

Israeli officials said a 50-year-old woman was severely wounded by rocket fire, while a teenage boy was slightly hurt as he ran for cover.

Gaza’s Health Ministry said a 22-year-old Palestinian man was killed by an Israeli air strike, and 13 other Palestinians were wounded.

Israeli police said a house in the coastal city of Ashkelon was damaged.

Israeli citizens look at the damage caused by a rocket fired from Gaza into the city of Ashkelon (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)
Israeli citizens look at the damage caused by a rocket fired from Gaza into the city of Ashkelon (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

The outbreak of fighting came as leaders from Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, and the smaller armed faction Islamic Jihad were in Egypt for talks with mediators aimed at restoring a fraying ceasefire.

Hamas leaders have hoped the recent calm would pave the way for a deeper, longer-term ceasefire.

Tensions have been rising in recent days amid allegations from Hamas that Israel has been delaying implementation of last month’s ceasefire understandings.

Air raid sirens sounded in southern Israeli throughout the day. By late afternoon, the military said 150 rockets had been fired into Israel. It said dozens of rockets were intercepted by its Iron Dome rocket-defence system and that roads near the Gaza border were closed to civilian traffic.

Israeli police said they had dispatched bomb disposal experts to the south to deal with projectiles that landed in open areas.

Damage in the southern Israeli city Kiryat Gat (Ariel Schalit/AP)
Damage in the southern Israeli city Kiryat Gat (Ariel Schalit/AP)

The army said its chief of staff, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, convened an emergency session with senior security officials to discuss the situation.

Later, it said it had hit 30 targets in Gaza, including what it said were five Hamas military compounds and several Islamic Jihad compounds.

COGAT, the Israeli defence body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, said it was closing the fishing zone off Gaza’s coast 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.

The European Union’s ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, sharply criticised the rocket attacks, saying “firing indiscriminately against civilians (is) unacceptable.”

Islamic Jihad, a smaller Iranian-backed militant group that sometimes acts independently of Hamas, threatened to fire longer range rockets towards Israel’s heartland.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.

The sides are bitter enemies and have fought three wars and engaged in numerous smaller flare-ups of violence.

Following heavy fighting in late March, Israel agreed to ease the blockade in exchange for a halt to rocket fire. This included expanding a fishing zone off Gaza’s coast, increasing imports into Gaza and allowing the Gulf state of Qatar to deliver aid to cash-strapped Gaza.

But like previous Egyptian-mediated agreements, those understandings have shown signs of unravelling in recent days.

- Press Association

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