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Gaza forces launch barrages across border, Israel hits back with air strikes

By Agencies - May 30,2018 - Last updated at May 30,2018

Smoke rises after the Israeli occupation warplanes carried out an air strike over residential areas in Gaza City, Gaza, on Tuesday (Anadolu Agency photo)

GAZA-ISRAEL BORDER/GAZA CITY — Forces from Palestinian resistance organisations launched on Tuesday their heaviest barrages against Israel since the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza, and Israeli aircraft struck back in a surge of fighting after weeks of protests.

Also on Tuesday, organisers of the Palestinian border protests launched a boat from Gaza in a challenge to Israel's maritime blockade of the enclave, Reuters reported.

"I want to make a future for myself, I want to live," said Ehab Abu Armana, 28, before he and 14 other protesters boarded the boat. 

The boat, carrying sick Gazans and those unable to find work, was stopped by Israeli forces several kilometres out at sea, Salah Abdul Atti, one of the organisers, told Agence France-Presse.

"Israeli forces surrounded it and intercepted it," he said, adding communications had been lost with the boat.

He said they had been informed the boat and its passengers would be taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

Organisers said they were seeking to highlight the impact of the blockade on Gaza's two million residents, according to Agence France-Presse.

At least three Israelis were wounded by shrapnel in Tuesday’s barrages, health officials said, after several dozen mortar bombs and rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip, triggering warning sirens in southern Israel throughout the day, Reuters reported. 

Israel has long said it would not tolerate such attacks, and its warplanes hit more than 30 targets belonging to armed groups, including a cross-border tunnel under construction, Israel said, as reported by Reuters. 

The armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the firing and said it was in response to Israel’s killing of dozens of Palestinians since March 30, mainly in Gaza border protests, according to Reuters.

“Qassam and Jerusalem Brigades [the groups’ armed wings] 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.

“It comes in response to Zionist aggression and crimes against our people and our resistance fighters... in addition to war crimes conducted by the enemy every day against our people during the marches of return along the border of [the] Gaza Strip.

“Bombardment for bombardment and blood for blood.”

Hamas has largely abided by a de-facto ceasefire since the 2014 war.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israeli occupation forces said the most extensive strikes from Gaza since the seven-week war in 2014 also drew “the largest Israeli retaliatory attack” since then, Reuters reported. 

Israeli occupation forces said more than 25 projectiles were fired on Tuesday. Several were shot down by its Iron Dome rocket interceptor while others landed in empty lots and farmland, Reuters reported.

One exploded in the yard of a kindergarten, damaging its walls and scattering the playground with debris and shrapnel, about an hour before it was scheduled to open for the day, according to Reuters. 

Occupation violence has soared along the Gaza frontier in recent weeks during which 116 Palestinians were killed by Israeli occupation forces’ fire at mass demonstrations calling for Palestinians’ right to return to their homeland from which they were forcibly displaced during the creation of Israel.

A Hamas spokesman defended Tuesday’s attacks as a “natural response to Israeli crimes”. An Islamic Jihad spokesman said “the blood of our people is not cheap”.

Plumes of smoke and dust rose from the sites hit in the Israeli air strikes. The powerful explosions shook buildings nearby, causing panic among rush hour crowds on streets and in markets. The Gazan Ministry of Education said shrapnel from one missile flew into a school, Reuters reported.

Amid international condemnation for its use of lethal force at the mass demonstrations that began on March 30, Israel claimed many of the dead were militants, while Palestinians and their supporters say most of the protesters were unarmed civilians and Israel was using excessive force against them. 

More than two million Palestinians are packed into the narrow Gaza strip. Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but, citing security concerns, maintains tight control of its land and sea borders, which has reduced its economy to a state of collapse.

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