Israel strikes Gaza after soldiers hurt, killing two Palestinian youths
Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinian teenagers in the Gaza Strip, medical sources said on Sunday, as tensions rose after an apparent bomb attack that wounded several Israeli soldiers on the enclave's border.
The Saturday explosion and ensuing Israeli air strikes marked one of the most serious escalations in the Hamas-ruled territory since the Islamist movement and Israel fought a war in 2014.
Gaza medics said that on Sunday they retrieved the bodies of two 17-year-old Palestinians killed by the Israeli tank fire. The Israeli army said that its forces had fired "warning shots" at a number of Palestinians approaching the border fence "in a suspicious manner".
They were identified by the Gaza health ministry as Salam Sabah and Abdullah Abu Sheikha, both 17, who were killed east of Rafah in the south of the enclave. They were to be buried later on Sunday.
On Saturday, four Israeli soldiers were wounded, two severely, when an improvised explosive device blew up along the Gaza border fence, but none of their lives were in danger, the army said.
Israel responded with what the military said were air strikes and tank fire against 18 targets belonging to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, including a weapons-making facilities, training camps and observation posts.
Hamas’s military wing, Izz ad Din al Qassam, claimed on Saturday night that it had used anti-aircraft missiles against Israeli jets flying over the coastal territory.
"This came in the frame of confronting the ongoing Zionist aggression against our people in the Gaza Strip," the group said without elaborating.
No militant group in Gaza claimed responsibility for Saturday's explosion. Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the Popular Resistance Committees, one of the smaller armed groups in Gaza, had detonated the bomb that wounded the soldiers.
"We will hunt down those responsible for yesterday’s incident," Lieberman told Israel Radio on Sunday, adding that Hamas was ultimately responsible for what happens in Gaza.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum blamed the violence on Israel.
"Hamas holds the Israeli occupation fully responsible for the consequences of its continued escalation against our people," said Barhoum in a statement.
Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008. The most recent conflict, in 2014, was waged in part over tunnels from Gaza that were used to launch attacks.
Israel hit Hamas targets in the southern Gaza Strip repeatedly in early February, saying Palestinians there had fired a rocket into its territory.
Tensions between the Palestinians and Israel have been high since US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state in December.
Netanyahu will visit the White House next month, a senior US administration official told AFP on Friday.
The March 5 visit comes as Netanyahu faces a scandal that has seen police recommend he be indicted for graft.