Jerusalem – Tensions have escalated between Israel and Palestine on Saturday as Israeli PM ordered IDF forces to launch attacks in the Gaza Strip under the pretext of 430 rockets being fired from Hamas into Israeli areas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a press statement, “This morning I instructed the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) to continue with massive strikes against terrorists in the Gaza Strip and I also instructed that forces around the Gaza Strip be stepped up with tank, artillery and infantry forces.”
Earlier, Israel’s army has escaped the blame that an Israeli strike has killed a pregnant Palestinian mother and her baby, while calling the deaths as a result of Hamas’ miscalculated firing.
“The terror organizations’ propaganda at its finest,” Israeli army spokesman Ronen Manelis said on Twitter.
“The mother and girl they’re claiming in Gaza that were killed in an (Israeli) attack were killed by Hamas use of weapons,” he added, without giving any proofs.
Another Israeli military spokesman, Jonathan Conricus, told journalists later that based on intelligence “we are now confident” that the deaths were not due to an Israeli strike.
“Their unfortunate death was not a result of (Israeli) weaponry but a Hamas rocket that was fired and exploded not where it was supposed to,” he added.
However, Gazan Health Ministry said on Saturday that Falestine Abu Arar, 37, and her 14-month-old daughter were killed by an Israeli strike that hit their home.
Israel has responded with waves of air and tank strikes and says it is targeting only military-related sites.
Four other Palestinians have been reported killed, including at least two militants.
One Israeli civilian was killed in a rocket strike on the city of Ashkelon near the Gaza border.
The latest flare-up came with Hamas, the hardline movement that rules the blockaded Gaza Strip, seeking further concessions from Israel under the ceasefire.
Israel said around 250 rockets were fired from Gaza and its air defenses intercepted dozens of them.
One woman was seriously injured in a rocket strike on the Israeli city of Kiryat Gat, some 20 kilometers from the Gaza border, police said.
A house near Ashkelon was damaged, while other rockets hit open areas. The Israeli army said its tanks and planes hit some 120 militant targets in its response.
The Gaza health ministry reported a 22-year-old man, a 25-year-old man as well as a 14-month-old baby and her pregnant mother killed, with 17 others wounded.
A source in the group said Egypt was engaged in discussions to calm the situation, as it has done repeatedly in the past.
The European Union called for an immediate halt to rocket fire from Gaza.
Israel said it was closing its people and goods crossings with Gaza as well as the zone it allows for fishermen off the enclave until further notice due to the rocket fire.
“Over the coming hours we will continue and we will broaden our offensive efforts, air force efforts, inside the Gaza Strip, again focusing only on military targets,” Conricus said.
Four Palestinians, including two Hamas militants, were killed after two Israeli soldiers were wounded in a shooting during weekly protests on the border.
A cease-fire between Israel and Hamas brokered by Egypt and the United Nations had led to relative calm around Israel’s April 9 general election. But on Tuesday, Israel reduced the offshore fishing limit it imposes for vessels out of Gaza after a rocket was fired from the territory.
On Thursday, Israel said its aircraft struck a Hamas military compound after balloons carrying firebombs and explosives were launched across the border.
Palestinians in Gaza have frequently fitted balloons with firebombs in a bid to damage Israeli property and have in the past succeeded in setting fire to large areas of farmland.
A Hamas delegation led by its Gaza head Yahya Sinwar went to Cairo on Thursday for talks with Egyptian officials.
At least 271 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the protests began in March 2018, the majority along the border.
Two Israeli soldiers have been killed in that period.
Israel accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover to carry out attacks and says its actions are necessary to defend the border and stop infiltrations.
UN investigations have revealed that at the end of February Israel may have committed crimes against humanity in responding to the border protests, as snipers “intentionally” shot civilians including children, journalists and the disabled.
Based on Inputs from Arab News.