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Israel strikes Gaza after rocket attack amid growing unrest

Egyptian security delegation may arrive next week to meet with senior Hamas officials and try to de-escalate situation
Israeli tanks deployed in southern Israel near separation fence with Gaza Strip (AFP/File photo)

Israeli forces attacked Hamas positions in Gaza after rockets were fired from the Palestinian enclave, the Israeli military said early on Saturday.

Late on Friday, "five projectiles were launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel," the army said. The projectiles hit open fields in southern Israel, an army spokesman told AFP.

At least one rocket exploded in the village of Sderot, causing a small fire. There was no damage or reports of physical injuries, but several people were treated for shock, according to the Israeli Arutz Sheva website.

In response, an "aircraft and tank struck a number of Hamas military targets in the northern Gaza Strip, including a post and military positions," the army said in a statement.

A Hamas security source said there were no casualties resulting from the Israeli strikes.

Later on Saturday, a drone launched from southern Gaza crossed into Israeli airspace, the army said in a separate statement.

It "dropped what seems to be an explosive device" near the security fence, damaging a military vehicle before returning to Gaza.

In response, an Israeli "aircraft targeted the squad that launched the drone," the army said.

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There were no reports of casualties in Gaza, but the unrest at the frontier continued throughout the day as four Palestinians infiltrated Israel and were apprehended by the Israeli army.

Three 13-year-olds crossed over from the southern Gaza Strip and a search revealed a knife, the army said in a statement.

Later, another infiltrator, this time from northern Gaza, was apprehended, and two knives were found on him, the army said.

Addressing the latest escalation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had been updated on the events and blamed Gaza's rulers, Hamas.

"Hamas is responsible for any act of aggression emanating from Gaza," he said in a statement.

"Any attempt to harm our soldiers or civilians has been and will be met with a harsh response."

A deal had been brokered several months ago by UN and Egyptian officials to end recent violent flare-ups between Israel and Hamas, which have fought three devastating wars since 2008, and to help stabilise the territory and prevent a humanitarian collapse, the Times of Israel said.

In light of the violence and forthcoming Israeli elections on 17 September, reports in Gaza say that an Egyptian security delegation will arrive next week to meet with senior Hamas officials and try to de-escalate the situation, Haaretz said.

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During clashes at the separation fence on Friday, two Palestinians aged 14 and 17 were shot dead by Israeli forces, the Gaza health ministry said, with another 46 Palestinians wounded.

The Israeli army said thousands of Palestinians took part in demonstrations along the fence, which included throwing "fire bombs and explosive devices" at soldiers.

Palestinians have been holding regular mass protests along the fortified line since March 2018.

The protesters have been calling for Israel's siege of the coastal enclave to be lifted and the right of return for Palestinians to their ancestral homes in Israel from which their families were expelled in 1948.

Israeli forces have violently cracked down on the overwhelmingly peaceful protests, using live fire and tear gas in an attempt to disperse the demonstrators and push them back from the frontier.

At least 210 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the protests began in March 2018, according to local medical officials. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper and another killed in a botched raid in the time since protests began.

The protests had calmed in recent months.