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Israeli jets hit Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire

Israeli air force jets struck targets in the Gaza Strip overnight Saturday in response to rockets fired by Palestinian militants into Israeli territory during the weekend, the Israeli military said in a statement yesterday.

According to local news media reports, nine targets, including a weapons manufacturing site and rocket launchers belonging to the militant Islamist groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, were hit. Rocket fire from Gaza and Israeli airstrikes continued yesterday. Local news reports said that at least one militant was killed in Gaza and several more were injured.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, has said it is not behind the rocket attacks and blames smaller, more radical groups in the seaside enclave. Israel, which considers Hamas a terrorist organization, said it holds the group responsible for the rocket fire, or at least for not preventing it. On Saturday, two rockets destroyed a factory in the Israeli city of Sderot. No serious injuries were reported.

During the past two weeks, there has been a sharp increase in the number of rockets fired at Israel from Gaza. The Israeli army said close to 50 have been fired, with about half hitting Israeli territory, compared with 13 in May.

Israel has responded with numerous airstrikes targeting what it calls “terrorist sites” across Gaza. On Friday, Israel carried out a “targeted killing,” hitting two operatives it said belonged to a Palestinian militant group.

Addressing the Israeli cabinet yesterday morning, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned, “We are ready to expand this operation as per need.” He added that he held the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, which recently reached a deal on a unity government with Hamas, equally responsible for rocket fire from Gaza.

The escalation in tension between Israel and Gaza comes in the wake of the abduction of three Israeli teens in the West Bank on June 12. Israel says it has evidence linking Hamas to the kidnapping. On Thursday, Israel released the names of two Palestinian suspects in the abduction. They remain at large and are alleged to be Hamas members.

Israel has carried out a wide-ranging military operation in the West Bank as it searches for the teens, including arresting hundreds of Hamas supporters and severely weakening the organization’s infrastructure.

“Hamas is trapped in its need to react to the operation that has dismantled its infrastructure and in (Hamas leader) Khaled Meshal’s threat to start a third intifada,” said Israel Ziv, a former head of the army’s operations branch, referring to the violent Palestinian uprisings of the late 1980s and early 2000s.

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