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Israeli air strikes kill Palestinian in Gaza after rocket attack on Beersheba

Several other Palestinians wounded as Hamas denies responsibility for rocket fire that targeted southern Israeli city
The mother of Naji Za'aneen, who was killed in the Israeli air strikes, at a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip (Reuters)

Israeli fighter jets have struck several targets in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket attacks on the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, killing a Palestinian and wounding three others, Gaza's health ministry has said.

Hamas, which governs the strip, has denied responsibility for the rocket fire from the besieged enclave which the Israeli army says struck a house.

Ashraf al-Qidra, a spokesman for Gaza's health ministry, told reporters that Naji Za'aneen, a 26-year-old from the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun, was killed and three others wounded in the air strikes, early on Wednesday.

In a joint statement with allied armed groups on Wednesday, Hamas said it rejected "all irresponsible attempts" to undermine Egyptian efforts to broker a new long-term truce," including the rocket fire last night.

An Egyptian security delegation had been visiting the Gaza Strip to try to restore calm.

Six sites were hit by the air strikes in the Gaza Strip, Hamas said.

A few hours earlier, a rocket hit the city of Beersheba, one of the first fired in recent weeks from the Palestinian territory.

"At 4am (01:00 GMT), Israelis in the city of Beersheba were running to bomb shelters after a rocket was launched from the Gaza Strip at Israel," the Israeli army tweeted.

The rocket struck the garden of a house occupied by a family with three children who were being treated for shock, Israeli media reported.

The army reported another rocket was fired towards the sea.

It was unclear who fired the rockets, but the Israeli army holds Hamas accountable for all rocket fire from the territory and commonly retaliates against its positions, regardless of who launched the weapons.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman ordered the closure of both of Israel's border crossings with Gaza on Wednesday following the violence.

Lieberman ordered the closure of the Karem Abu Salem goods crossing and the Erez crossing for people, and the reduction of the permitted fishing zone along the Gaza coast to three nautical miles, the defence ministry body responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, COGAT, said.

Israel's military chief was reported to have cut short a visit to the United States and was returning home, and schools were to be shut in Beersheba for the day.

On Saturday, Lieberman ordered deliveries of fuel to the besieged Gaza Strip to be suspended after protests on Friday during which seven Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops.

Great March of Return

Tensions along the fence separating the Gaza Strip from Israel have been simmering for months, with Israeli leaders threatening that they are prepared to escalate military action against the enclave.

Palestinians have been protesting every Friday since 30 March as part of the Great March of Return.

Israeli sappers work on a house in Beersheba that the Israeli military said was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip (Reuters)

The protest campaign calls for an end to the 11-year Israeli blockade on Gaza and for Palestinian refugees' right of return to the lands that their families fled during the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.

Since the demonstrations began on 30 March, the Israeli army has killed at least 205 Palestinian protesters and wounded thousands more, according to Gaza's health ministry.

The latest casualty, 27-year-old Saddam Abu Shalash, succumbed on Tuesday to wounds sustained a day earlier.

One Israeli soldier has been killed over the same period.

Israel maintains a crippling blockade of the Gaza Strip which critics say amounts to collective punishment of the impoverished enclave's two million residents.

Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border.

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