Rockets fired from Gaza after Israel kills Palestinian on border

Jerusalem (AFP)


Palestinian militants in Gaza said they fired a barrage of rockets at Israel on Sunday, in a new flareup a week ahead of a general election in the Jewish state.

The radical group Islamic Jihad said the strikes were in response to Israel's killing of one of its fighters early the same day.

The rockets set off warning sirens in the southern city of Ashkelon and several other locations, while around 10 were intercepted by the Jewish state's Iron Dome missile defence system, the Israeli army said.

Others crashed into open fields and there were no reports of serious injuries.

"Twenty launches were identified from the Gaza Strip toward Israeli territory," a military statement said, without specifying if they were rockets or mortar fire.

Islamic Jihad, which is allied with Gaza's rulers Hamas, claimed what it said were rocket attacks.

"The Palestinian resistance targeted Sunday evening the city of Ashkelon and the Gaza envelope with a number rockets, as a response to the crime of the Zionist enemy," it said in a statement.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 but has struck a series of unofficial truce agreements with it in the past year.

On Sunday morning, Israel's army said it had "spotted two terrorists approaching the security fence in the southern Gaza Strip and placing an explosive device adjacent to it".

"The troops opened fire towards them. A hit was identified," it said.

Islamic Jihad identified the dead man as Mohammed al-Naem, 27, a member of its armed Al-Quds Brigade forces.

A video later emerged on social media showing a bulldozer approaching a body while a group of young, apparently unarmed men, were trying to retrieve it.

The sound of gunfire is heard and the men ultimately run away as the bulldozer scoops up the body.

A tank can be seen positioned nearby.

The Gaza health ministry said two civilians were wounded by Israeli gunfire at the scene.

Israel's hawkish Defence Minister Naftali Bennett has pursued a policy of retaining the bodies of militants from Gaza as bargaining chips to pressure Hamas, which has held the bodies of two Israeli soldiers since 2014.

Hamas is also believed to be detaining two Israeli citizens who entered Gaza separately and whose families say suffer from mental illness.

Israel has a general election on March 2, its third in less than a year after deadlocked polls in April and September 2019.

Embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, facing trial over a series of corruption allegations, is again neck and neck with centrist challenger Benny Gantz, a former military general.

Hamas and Israel last fought a full-scale war in 2014 but smaller flareups are relatively common.

In November, Jihad and Israel fought a three-day conflict that left 35 Palestinians dead and more than 100 wounded, according to official figures.

There were no Israeli fatalities.

Under the informal agreements in the past year, Israel has slightly eased a blockade of the impoverished strip in exchange for relative calm.