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Gaza protests cancelled for first time after Israeli air strikes

Great March of Return organisers say they have delayed protest to protect people after Israeli air raids respond to rockets overnight
Israel launches strikes on Gaza after two rockets triggered Tel Aviv missile defence sirens (Reuters)

Weekly protests along the Gaza-Israel boundary were called off on Friday after Israeli jets pounded the enclave overnight, hours after rockets were launched at Tel Aviv.

"In keeping with the public interest, the commission has decided to exceptionally postpone its activities scheduled for this day," the body which organises the protests said in a statement.

Protests will resume in the coming weeks, with particular preparation for the one-year anniversary of their beginning on 30 March, it said.

An official from the organising committee, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the protests were delayed "to protect our people due to the escalation and the Israeli aggression".

The cancellation, the first of its kind in a year, came after Israel said its aircraft struck dozens of alleged Hamas targets in Gaza overnight in response to rockets fired from the enclave including at Tel Aviv.

Man and woman wounded in Rafah

Witnesses said powerful explosions from the air strikes rocked buildings in Gaza and lit the skies over targeted sites. Following the overnight exchanges, sirens sounded again in neighbouring Israeli towns after dawn broke.

Health ministry officials in Gaza said two people, a man and a woman, were wounded when their house was damaged in Rafah in the early morning.

The Israeli military said its Iron Dome defence system intercepted all but one of six more missiles that were fired at Israel.

In a statement, the Israeli military said it had struck "approximately 100 military targets" belonging to Hamas, which governs Gaza.

The statement included photographs of several sites the military said it targeted, including what it called the headquarters of Hamas's West Bank operations, a rocket manufacturing site, and a naval post which it described as a weapons depot.

The Reuters news agency was unable to immediately verify the claims.

The incident comes only weeks before Israeli parliamentary elections, set for 9 April.

Who fired the rockets?

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the firing of the missiles but Israeli journalist Barak Ravid cited an unidentified Israeli official as saying Hamas did not fire the rockets.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another Gaza faction, also denied being involved in the incident, Reuters reported.

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"We are still checking which group did the firing. We don't know who carried it out," Israel's chief military spokesman, Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis, told Israel Radio, as quoted by Reuters.

"The Hamas organisation is the main organisation in the strip. It is responsible for what happens within the strip and what emanates from it," he said.

That was echoed by US President Donald Trump’s special representative for Middle East negotiations, who only minutes after the first reports were issued on Thursday said Hamas was responsible.

"Hamas violently suppresses its own people demonstrating against Hamas’ rule & failures today and NOW fires rockets at cities in Israel. OUTRAGEOUS!" Jason Greenblatt wrote on Twitter.