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Death toll mounts as violence between Israel and Hamas escalates

Suhaib Salem, Reuters | Palestinians inspect the remains of a vehicle that was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip November 12, 2018.

Israel launched more air strikes on the Gaza Strip on Tuesday as Palestinian militants kept up rocket fire on Israeli territory in a flare-up triggered by an undercover Israeli operation in the Palestinian enclave.

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Health officials said the fighting had killed six Palestinians, five of them militants, in Gaza and one Israeli in a neighbouring city.

The latest flare-up -- which threatens to derail recent peace efforts -- came after an Israeli special forces operation in the Gaza Strip on Sunday left eight people dead. Israel had stressed its covert operation on Sunday was an intelligence-gathering mission and "not an assassination or abduction", but Hamas vowed to retaliate.

Hamas TV station destroyed

Israel's military said it had so far struck more than 100 militant sites in response to over 370 rockets fired from the Hamas-run territory Monday afternoon into Tuesday morning.

The building for Hamas's Al-Aqsa TV was destroyed in an Israeli strike after a series of warning shots, with the Israeli army saying the station "contributes to Hamas's military actions".

No injuries were reported and workers were believed to have evacuated after the warning shots.

Al-Aqsa Television - named after a major mosque Jerusalem - said it would resume broadcasts soon.

Casualties on both sides

Missile defences had intercepted dozens of the rockets from Gaza and most others fell in open areas, though some hit houses and other civilian structures, the military said, with at least one killed and several injured.

One man was pulled dead from the ruins of a building in Ashkelon in southern Israel, emergency services said, while a woman recovered from the same building was in a critical state.

The army said an Israeli bus was hit by an anti-tank missile from the Gaza Strip, causing several injuries. A soldier was severely wounded, it said.

Israel-Gaza violence: 'Hard to see how they can be pulled back from this brink'

Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, including Hamas, claimed responsibility for the rocket fire and the missile attack on the bus, which they said was being used by Israeli soldiers.

Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said he could not yet provide further details on the bus or its passengers.

Violence began after special forces mission

The deadly Israeli special forces operation late Sunday prompted Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, responded to the deadly Israeli special forces mission with a barrage of rocket fire in “revenge”.

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, denounced it as a "cowardly Israeli attack".

“The joint command of Palestinian factions announce the beginning of bombardments of the enemy’s settlements with scores of rockets,” the Ezzedine al Qassam Brigades group added in a statement.

The dead from the incident late Sunday included an Israeli army officer and a local commander for Hamas’s armed wing. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short a trip to Paris and rushed home as tensions rose.

Derail peace efforts

The renewed violence threatens to derail weeks of efforts to end months of deadly unrest along the Gaza-Israel border which had appeared to be calming.

Recent weeks have seen Israel allow Qatar to provide the Gaza Strip with millions of dollars in aid for salaries as well as fuel to help ease an electricity crisis.

Before the flare-up, Netanyahu had defended his decision to allow Doha to transfer the cash despite criticism from within his own government, saying he wanted to avoid a war if it was not necessary.

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008, and deadly clashes in recent months have raised fears of a fourth.

The Israeli security cabinet, which has the authority to decide on launching wars, was set to meet on Tuesday morning, according to media reports.

UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov, who along with Egypt has been seeking a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, called the escalation "extremely dangerous" and said on Twitter that "restraint must be shown by all".

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008 and recent unrest has raised fears of a fourth.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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