Tear gas canisters fired by Israeli troops fall on Palestinians during a protest on the Gaza Strip border with Israel on Friday, July 13, 2018. The Gaza Ministry of Health says that a Palestinian 15 years died in a fire border protest. (Khalil Hamra / Associated Press)
by Aron Heller | AP July 14 at 9:24 a.m.
JERUSALEM – The Israeli army carried out its largest campaign of daytime air strikes in Gaza since the 2014 war, when Hamas militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel, threatening to cause further conflagration after weeks of tensions in Gaza. along the volatile border.
No casualties or major damage was reported anywhere, and Israel said it was focused on attacking military targets and was warning Gaza civilians to keep their distance from certain sites. But it still marked a significant upsurge after a long period of simmering, generally low-level conflict.
Lt. Colonel Jonathan Conricus said the latest Israeli departure, the third of the day, hit about 40 Hamas targets, including tunnels, logistics centers and a Hamas battalion headquarters. He said the escalation was the result of Hamas rocket attacks, its promotion of violence along the border and its campaign to launch incendiary comets and balloons that devastated Israel's farmland and nature reserves.
"Our message to Hamas is that it can and will improve the intensity of our effort if necessary," he said. "What Hamas is doing is pushing them closer and closer to the edge of the abyss … Hamas will have to understand that you have to pay a price."
Israel has been warning Hamas in recent weeks that while it has no interest in engaging in the kind of conflict that led the parties to fight in three wars in the last decade, it would not tolerate the continued efforts of the militants Gaza for breaking the border and its campaign to devastate Israeli border communities with arson attacks.
On Friday, thousands of Palestinians gathered near the border with Gaza to protest almost every week. A 15-year-old Palestinian who tried to climb the fence in Israel was shot dead. Later, the army said that an Israeli officer was seriously injured by a grenade thrown at him.
Gaza's Health Ministry said on Saturday that a 20-year-old boy beaten by gunfire on Friday during protests in the southern Gaza Strip also died of his injuries.
The Islamic militant group Hamas that governs Gaza has led the border protests aimed in part to draw attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. The demonstrations have been largely fueled because of the general despair of the blockade, which has caused widespread economic difficulties.
More than 130 Palestinians, mostly unarmed, have been killed by Israeli gunfire since the protests began on March 30.
Israel says it defends its sovereign border and accuses Hamas of using the protests as a cover for attempts to penetrate the border fence and attack civilians and soldiers. Recently, it has been struggling to cope with the widespread fires caused by incendiary kites and balloons floating on the border.
In a statement, the military said that Hamas's activities "violate Israeli sovereignty, endanger Israeli civilians and sabotage efforts aimed at helping civilians in Gaza."
Mermaids cried during the night and throughout Saturday in southern Israel when waves of rockets and mortars were fired from Gaza in the midst of air strikes. Israel said at least six of the projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.
In a relatively rare admission, Hamas said it fired rockets to deter Israel from taking further action. Most of Gaza's recent rockets have been fired by smaller factions, but Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said it was an "immediate response" to "deliver the message."
Israel said more than 30 rockets and mortars were fired early in the day, with new attacks resuming each time it attacks. As a precautionary measure, the military closed a nearby beach.
The army said its planes targeted two Hamas tunnels, as well as other military components, including those involved in the production of kites and balloons. Tit said that the Hamas battalion headquarters in northern Gaza was completely destroyed.
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