Tensions rise as Gaza, Israel trade heavy fire

The site where a mortar shell from Gaza hit a kindergarten in southern Israel

The site where a mortar shell from Gaza hit a kindergarten in southern Israel

Israel has targeted more than 60 military targets in the Gaza Strip over 24 hours, saying some 70 rockets and mortars were fired into its territory throughout the day Tuesday, a number of which were intercepted by air defense systems.

"Qassam and Jerusalem Brigades announce joint responsibility for bombarding [Israel's] military installations and settlements near Gaza with dozens of rocket shells throughout the day", they said in a joint statement.

Palestinian militants launched their heaviest barrages against Israel since the 2014 Gaza war on Tuesday and Israeli aircraft struck back, in a surge of fighting after weeks of border violence. The other three are soldiers wounded by shrapnel outside their military position of Sufa near Gaza.

But Israel has restricted that to a maximum of 14.5km in recent years, citing the threat of Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

While Islamic Jihad spokesman claimed that a "ceasefire agreement was reached with Israel to return to calm", with the help of Egypt, Israelis denied that a deal had been reached, and continued to respond with force to the ongoing cross-border fire.

At least 122 Palestinians have been killed since mass protests and clashes broke out along the Gaza border on March 30. Israel says it holds Gaza's Hamas rulers responsible for the bloodshed.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said the Security Council "should be outraged and respond".

Among the targets hit by Israel in Gaza on Tuesday was a tunnel built to attack Israel.

"The army views the terror activity carried out by the Hamas terror organization with great severity, and will continue to operate in a powerful and determined manner".

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Tuesday's violence followed weeks of deadly unrest along the border between Israel and the blockaded Palestinian enclave.

Shortly after he spoke, Israel's military began carrying out air strikes in Gaza.

On Monday, Israeli tank fire killed a Hamas fighter at a border outpost, while two other militants were arrested when they tried to break through the fence.

Amid worldwide condemnation for its use of lethal force at the mass demonstrations, Israel said numerous dead were militants and that the army was repelling attacks on the border fence.

It was not immediately clear if Islamic Jihad, a much smaller, Iran-backed militant group, acted independently Tuesday or at least had the tacit blessing of Hamas.

The clear message sent to Hamas by Europe and the global community the past two months is that any violence is Israel's fault and that it is wrong for Israel to defend its people.

But the protests appear to be fueled primarily by a desire to ease the blockade.

Hamas forcibly wrested control of Gaza from the rival Fatah party in 2007 after winning legislative elections, triggering an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has severely restricted the movement of most of Gaza's inhabitants.

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