Israel launches airstrikes on Gaza Strip after border protest bloodshed

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Israel's army said it had launched airstrikes targeting Hamas in the Gaza Strip early Saturday, following bloodshed in border protest clashes that saw a Palestinian teenager shot dead and an Israeli soldier injured.

The Israeli aerial bombardment came as rockets and mortars were lobbed into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, after a particularly bloody day of demonstrations at the frontier that also left scores of Palestinians injured.

Army “fighter jets targeted an offensive terror tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip, in addition to several terror sites in military compounds throughout the Gaza Strip,” the Israeli military said in a statement.

According to witnesses in the Gaza Strip, there were no casualties from the airstrikes, which damaged infrastructure controlled by Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas, who have been in charge of the area since 2007.

The strikes were conducted “in response to the terror acts instigated during the violent riots that took place along the security fence yesterday”, the statement said.

It also cited “continuous arson attacks damaging Israeli territory on a daily basis with the launching of arson balloons from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory”.

Footage of Friday's bloodshed by AFP showed one Palestinian teenager shot dead at the fence between the two territories.

Fifteen-year-old Othman Rami Halles was killed east of Gaza City, health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qodra said.

The ministry said a further 220 other Palestinians were wounded as protests along the frontier spilt over into clashes.

The majority were involved in protests and clashes but others were seeking to breach or damage the border fence.

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Palestinians in Gaza have for months been demonstrating against Israel's decade-long blockade of the territory and in support of their right to return to lands they fled or were driven from during the war surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948.

Since the protests and clashes broke out along the border on March 30, at least 140 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire.

No Israelis have been killed.

Israel's army said grenades, molotov cocktails, flaming tires and stones have been hurled in the direction of its soldiers, one of whom was injured by a grenade.

The military said some 17 launches were detected from Gaza during its airstrikes, without specifying the type of projectiles.

According to witnesses in Gaza, several rockets were fired as well as around thirty mortar shells.

A Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, claimed the launches were an “immediate response” to the Israeli airstrikes.

They caused no injuries or damage, according to Israeli media.

Israel says its use of live fire is necessary to defend its borders and stop infiltrations.

It accuses Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas of seeking to use the protests as cover for attacks against Israel. — AFP

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