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Israeli strikes on Gaza kill three Palestinians

Israeli army says it carried out artillery strikes against seven Hamas military targets
File photo of Israeli strike on Gaza (Reuters)

Three Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, the enclave's health ministry announced, as Israel's army claimed it was hitting back at Hamas after its soldiers came under fire.

The flare-up comes five days after a UN-brokered ceasefire helped halt an earlier surge in violence.

The three were killed in strikes east of Gaza City, a health ministry statement said, identifying them as Ahmed Munir al-Bassous, 28; Ubeidah Asad Farwana, 29; and Mohammed Tawfiq al-Aarir, 27.

The Israeli army said it carried out artillery strikes against seven Hamas military targets.

"A short while ago, terrorists fired at (Israeli) soldiers in the southern Gaza Strip," an army statement said, without mentioning any injuries to its forces.

Hamas confirmed that the three Palestinians killed were part of one of its armed branch, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. 

 "The Al-Qassam Brigades will obtain revenge soon for the blood of the martyrs. We are sticking to the principle of shelling for shelling and blood for blood," Hamas official Fathi Hammad said on Thursday during the three militants' funeral.

Israel has stepped up its air strikes as Palestinians continue to regularly demonstrate along the fence separating Gaza from Israel as part of the Great March of Return.

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 149 Palestinian protesters and wounded more than 16,000, according to Gaza's health ministry.

Israel has tightened the 11-year siege with the purported aim of dissuading Hamas from sending kites and balloons set on fire over into Israel.

Despite Hamas' instructions to its members to stop sending kites, kite fliers unaffiliated with the group have rejected the call, vowing to continue until the crippling Israeli-led blockade on Gaza was lifted.

Palestinians view the inexpensive flying devices to be a tool of resistance against the well-armed Israeli forces stationed behind the fence.