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Israeli jets pound Gaza in worst violence since 2014 war

A Palestinian woman was killed by Israeli shelling as air strikes hit the Gaza Strip in what Israel says is a response to Hamas mortar fire
Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 5 May 2016 (AFP)

Israeli jets struck four positions in Gaza on Thursday, with shelling in the southern part of the enclave killing a woman, in the worst flaring of violence since the 2014 war.

Zeina al-Amour, 54, was killed when Israeli shelling hit her home in the eastern part of Khan Yunis, officials at Khan Yunis' Nasser hospital told AFP. 

The tank shelling came in response to a mortar attack from Gaza on Israeli forces, the Israeli army said.

Amour is the first person to die as tensions between the Israeli army and Hamas have escalated in recent days.

The air strikes on Thursday come a day after Israeli jets targeted Gaza's defunct international airport near the southern city of Rafah and nearby farming areas, and also as reports emerged that a captured Hamas fighter was providing information on the group's tunnel network.

"In response to the ongoing attacks against Israeli forces, IAF (Israeli airforce) aircraft targeted four Hamas military posts in the southern Gaza Strip," the army said in a statement.

According to the army, Hamas had earlier fired "more than five mortar rounds at forces during operational activities adjacent to the security fence with the Gaza Strip".

Local sources told the Ma'an News Agency that Israeli F-16 jets launched several rockets on Gaza late on Thursday afternoon, hitting agricultural land in the Abu al-Rus area in eastern Rafah.

Earlier in the day, four Palestinians, including three children, were injured when Israeli forces carried out several air strikes on the strip.

One attack hit a metal workshop in the al-Zaytoun area southeast of Gaza City.

Hamas has accused Israeli forces of encroaching into Gazan territory.

Army spokesman Peter Lerner said in the past 24 hours "we have had at least six incidents where Hamas has fired at IDF activities," referring to the Israeli army.

He said that Israel had responded in what was the first direct confrontation with Hamas fighters since the war of 2014, which killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and 73 Israelis, 67 of whom were soldiers.

Clashes between Palestinian fighters and Israeli forces were continuing east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip Thursday afternoon, security sources and witnesses said.

Israel's military said on Twitter that its forces had "responded with tank fire" to mortar rounds fired from the Palestinian enclave.

Hamas tunnels unearthed

On Thursday it was revealed by the Shin Bet intelligence agency that Israel had arrested a reported Hamas member, Mohammed Atawa, who had given the agency information about Hamas tunnels, digging sites and tunnel shafts.

The tunnels, used by operatives fighting within Israeli territory, have been targeted by both Israel and Egypt for demolition.

The Israeli army said that a major target of the strikes was suspected infiltration tunnels under the border like those whose destruction it cited as one of the principal achievements of the 2014 conflict.

Gaza has been devastated by three conflicts between Israel and its Hamas rulers and other Palestinian factions since 2008, and reconstruction has been painstakingly slow amid an Israeli blockade on all imports that could have military purposes.

Over the past two days, the Israeli army says that its soldiers, operating along the fence that tightly encloses the territory, have been repeatedly targeted from inside Gaza. 

But army spokesman Lerner said Israel had "no interest in escalation whatsoever".