Israel bombs Hamas targets in Gaza as truce unravels

 

Israel launched air raids on Hamas security targets in Gaza today, wounding more than 20 people including a baby, medical officials in the Islamist-ruled territory said, as militants stepped up rocket fire, wounding an Israeli man.

The escalating violence threatened to unravel Wednesday's shaky Egyptian-brokered truce which had temporarily calmed violence that erupted on Monday after a raid across Egypt's Sinai border in which an Israeli man and two gunmen were killed.

Hamas medical officials said a six-year-old Palestinian boy was also killed in an airstrike but Israel's military denied any involvement.

Israel confirmed its aircraft had struck two militant targets in Gaza overnight, calling it a response to rocket fire aimed at Israel from the Islamist-ruled territory.

Hamas medical officials said a third Israeli air raid killed a six-year-old boy at a soccer field near the town of Khan Younis, and wounded two other people. They said a baby was wounded in a separate attack in Rafah, at the Egypt border.

An Israeli military spokeswoman, commenting on the boy's death, said: "an initial examination shows the military was not involved in this incident." She had no immediate comment on the report about the baby.

The Israeli strikes were reported after the worst rocket assault in six days of fighting. One projectile slammed into the Israeli town of Sderot wounding an Israeli man in the neck just as he was trying to enter a concrete shelter.

The rocket was one of more than 50 fired into Israel, nearly 10 times the number fired on Friday, the military said. At least six other rockets were intercepted by an Israeli missile defence system.

Israel's military chiefs scheduled urgent consultations to weigh a "course of action," a military spokeswoman said. Israeli authorities also urged the one million Israelis who live in the south to stay indoors or close to fortified shelters.

Officials in Gaza said Israel attacked security targets in Gaza City and also in northern and southern parts of the crowded coastal strip before dawn.

Nobody in Gaza claimed responsibility for the rocket fire at Israel, but a security source said the missiles were launched by members of a fringe Salafi group sympathetic to al-Qaeda, two of whose militants were killed in Israeli raids on Friday.

Israel blamed the Salafis for Monday's cross-border raid from Egypt, after which Israel launched punitive air raids on nearby Gaza, killing 11 Palestinians, many of them militants but also including two children, one of them a 14-year-old boy.

Hamas militants had conditionally pledged to adhere to the truce brokered by Egypt if Israel also held fire. Israel never formally commented on the deal but its officials have pledged to respond to any rocket fire from Gaza.

Egypt has brokered such deals in the past and stepped in this time fearing the violence, which coincided with a hotly contested presidential race in Cairo, could spiral out of control.

Israel said Gaza militants had also fired more than 130 rockets into its territory last week.

REUTERS

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