Israel, Hamas trade heavy fire after deadly incursion
GAZA CITY (AP):
Palestinian militants bombarded Israel with dozens of rockets and mortar shells Monday, while Israeli warplanes struck targets throughout the Gaza Strip in what appeared to be the most intense exchange of fire since a 2014 war.
Palestinian officials said at least three people, including two militants, were killed by Israeli fire and nine were wounded, and an Israeli airstrike destroyed the ruling Hamas group's TV station. In Israel, the national rescue service said at least seven people were wounded, including a 19-year-old soldier who was in critical condition.
The fighting, triggered by a botched undercover Israeli military raid in Gaza, cast doubt over recent understandings brokered by Egypt and UN officials to reduce tensions. Just a day earlier, Israel's prime minister had defended those understandings, saying he was doing everything possible to avoid another war.
The undercover troops, apparently on a reconnaissance mission, were discovered several kilometres (miles) inside Gaza on Sunday, setting off a battle that left seven militants, including a Hamas commander and an Israeli military officer, dead.
100 rockets launched
Around sundown on Monday, militants launched some 100 rockets in less than an hour, the most intense barrage since the 50-day war four years ago.
The outgoing rockets, which continued into the evening, lit up the skies of Gaza and set off air raid sirens throughout southern Israel.
The military said warplanes, helicopters and tanks had struck over 30 militant targets, including military compounds, observation posts and weapons facilities. It also said it targeted a squad that was launching rockets.
Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said the army had sent additional infantry troops, rocket defence systems and intelligence units to the Gaza frontier.
"We continue to strike and retaliate against the military targets belonging to terrorist organisations in Gaza, and as for our intentions, we will enhance these efforts as needed," he told reporters.
Late Monday, an airstrike destroyed the Gaza City headquarters of Hamas' Al Aqsa TV station. Israel had fired warning shots ahead of the airstrike, prompting the station to halt programming and replace it with a logo. Minutes later, the airstrike flattened the three-storey building and the station went black.
Workers had evacuated the building after the warning shots, and there were no immediate reports of casualties.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum condemned the bombing as "a barbaric, brazen aggression". Ten minutes later, the station resumed broadcasts, airing prerecorded national songs.