Gaza air strikes: Israel launches heaviest barrage since 2014 war amid militant rocket attacks

Two Palestinian teenagers dead and at least three Israeli citizens injured in Saturday's intense exchange of fire

Bel Trew
Sunday 15 July 2018 01:41 BST
Smoke rises from a building after an Israeli air strike in central Gaza City on 14 July
Smoke rises from a building after an Israeli air strike in central Gaza City on 14 July

Israel has launched the largest wave of airstrikes on Gaza since the 2014 war, as militants in the enclave fired volleys of rockets at towns adjacent to the border.

Two Palestinian teenagers were killed and at least three Israeli civilians were injured in the intense cross-border exchange that first erupted on Friday night.

Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli army spokesman, said the decision to bomb Gaza was taken after “terror along the security fence, arson terror and rockets”. The Israeli army said it had struck more than 40 targets in Gaza, the largest wave of daytime strikes since Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014.

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, the militant group that has ruled Gaza since 2007, claimed that its fighters had “responded appropriately by targeting Israeli … Military targets” after a “ruthless” attack. More than 90 rockets and mortars were fired from the enclave at southern Israeli towns.

In Gaza, plumes of smoke rose above several cities as strikes tore through buildings including a high-rise in Al-Shati refugee camp in the north. Israel said the building was covering a militant tunnel and an underground warfare training facility.

Health officials in Gaza said the building was empty, but two Palestinians aged 15 and 16, among a crowd in a nearby public park, were killed. Around 10 other passers-by were wounded, the officials said. Nearby houses were damaged.

Rocket warning sirens, meanwhile, blared across multiple Israeli towns near Gaza’s borders, sending Israeli citizens running for bomb shelters.

At least three Israelis were wounded, including a teenage girl, when a rocket struck a house in the southern town of Sderot, police said. The Israeli foreign ministry, that shared footage of the damaged home, said that militants in Gaza were “intentionally” targeting thousands of families in the south of the country.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, said the country’s forces had delivered “the hardest blow” to Hamas since the 2014 conflict.

“We will increase the strength of our attacks as necessary,” he added.

A Palestinian official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Egypt and other international players were holding talks with Israel and Gaza to restore calm.

Brigaderie Ronen Manelis, Israel’s chief military spokesman, said that it was too early to say whether the cross-border fire would herald the start of a broader campaign in the enclave. Hamas later said that it agreed to an “Egyptian offer to return to a ceasefire to stop this escalation”.

An Israeli spokesman declined to comment but said Israel’s actions would depend on what happened on the ground.

​However residents of Gaza told The Independent they were preparing for the worst.

“People are really worried there will be a new war, families are rushing out to get supplies,” said Ahmed, 29, who is based in northern Gaza.

“We can hear Israeli drones hovering above us in Gaza’s skies,” he added.

The Israeli military said that on Friday that Palestinian protesters had thrown burning tyres, stones, explosive devices and fire bombs at its soldiers and that one of its officers was wounded by a Palestinian grenade. The army said prior to the airstrikes it had sent warnings to Gaza citizens to stay away from areas where militant activity was taking place.

Over 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire during 12 weeks of protests at the border. Since 30 March hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have congregated near the border fences demanding the right to return to ancestral lands they were forced from or fled during the war which culminated in the creation of Israel in 1948.

Several protesters have attempted to cut the border fence. Others had taken to flying burning kites and balloons at Israel which Israel said has sparked more than 750 wildfires, causing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage.

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