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Israel Strikes Hamas Targets in Gaza as Violence Flares along Border | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires towards the Gaza Strip. Reuters

Israeli warplanes struck five Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday in response to mortar rounds fired at Israel from the coastal territory run by the militant group, the Israeli military said.

The army did not specify what was hit, saying only that “Hamas terrorist infrastructure” was targeted in southern Gaza.

Palestinian media reported that open areas were struck as well as a guard post. No injuries were reported.

Israel earlier said it responded with tank fire to a mortar shell launched toward Israeli forces near the southern Gaza Strip. The army said no soldiers were harmed.

Israel blamed Hamas for launching the mortars and a military spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, called the violence “the most serious” escalation since the 2014 war.

The outbreak of violence coincided with work by the Israeli military to uncover tunnels being built by Gaza militants that the Jewish state fears could be used to infiltrate its territory.

“Our efforts to destroy the Hamas terror tunnel network, a grave violation of Israel’s sovereignty, will not cease or be deterred,” military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said.

Last month, Israel discovered and destroyed a tunnel dug from Gaza into Israel — the first to be found since the 2014 Gaza war.

That discovery sparked concerns in Israel that the militant group was rebuilding its underground tunnel network in preparation for the next conflict.

The Hamas armed wing, Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam Brigades, said Wednesday’s raid was a violation of the 2014 ceasefire and demanded that Israel pull out its forces “immediately.”

“The enemy must not make pretexts and must leave Gaza immediately, they should deal with their fears and concerns outside the separation line,” the group said in a statement.

In 2014, Israel destroyed more than 30 tunnels Hamas had dug under the border. More than 2,200 Palestinians, about two-thirds of them civilians, were killed in the 50-day summer war. On the Israeli side, 66 soldiers and seven civilians died.

A senior Hamas official in exile, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said calm along the Gaza-Israel border was being restored following intervention with the two sides on the part of Egypt, which had brokered the 2014 truce.

“Contacts were made with Egyptian brothers, who sponsored the last ceasefire agreement. Their response was quick, serious, which helped restore things to where they were before,” Abu Marzouk in a post on his official Facebook page.