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Israel pounds Gaza in another round of retaliatory strikes

Thomas Coex, AFP |Smoke billows from the Gaza City skyline after an Israeli air strike on May 29, 2018.

Israel said Wednesday it had struck 25 more Hamas "military targets" in air raids in the Gaza Strip overnight in response to rocket and mortar fire, part of the worst military flare-up since a 2014 war.

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Targets included drone sheds, a rocket-making workshop and "military compounds," a military statement said.

Israel had said Tuesday it hit more than 35 militant targets in the Palestinian enclave after a barrage of rocket and mortar fire from Hamas, the Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip, and Islamic Jihad.

It said late Tuesday about 70 rockets and mortars had been fired at Israel throughout the day. A number of them were intercepted by air defence systems.

Three Israeli soldiers were wounded. There were no immediate reports of casualties in Gaza.

Sirens and explosions continued into the night after Tuesday's eruption.

Late Tuesday, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad said a ceasefire agreement had been reached to restore calm, though the Israeli army declined to comment.

In a rare joint statement, Hamas and Islamic Jihad declared shared responsibility for the rocket and mortar fire, saying it was in retaliation for Israeli attacks targeting their positions.

The exchange of fire comes after weeks of deadly protests and clashes along the Gaza-Israel border. Three members of Islamic Jihad were killed in an Israeli strike on Sunday.

Violence has soared along the Gaza frontier in recent weeks during which 116 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire at mass demonstrations calling for Palestinians’ right to return to ancestral lands now in Israel.

A Hamas spokesman defended Tuesday’s attacks as a “natural response to Israeli crimes”. An Islamic Jihad spokesman said “the blood of our people is not cheap”.

Amid international condemnation for its use of lethal force at the mass demonstrations that began on March 30, Israel said many of the dead were militants and that the army was repelling attacks on the border fence. Palestinians and their supporters say most of the protesters were unarmed civilians and Israel was using excessive force against them.

Organisers of the Palestinian border protests launched a boat from Gaza on Tuesday in a challenge to Israel’s maritime blockade of the enclave.

“I want to make a future for myself, I want to live,” said Ehab Abu Armana, 28, before he and 14 other protesters boarded the boat. The Israeli military said it would not allow the vessel to break the blockade, but hours after it set off gave no details about whether it had been intercepted.

More than two million Palestinians are packed into the narrow coastal enclave. Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but, citing security concerns, maintains tight control of its land and sea borders, which has reduced its economy to a state of collapse.

Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border.

(FRANCE 24 wtih AFP and REUTERS)

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