Seven Hamas men are dead and another four are injured after Israeli air strikes on Gaza, in the most deadly day for the Palestinian militant group since 2012.
The Israeli military authorities said that the strikes early on Monday were in response to “rocket attacks against southern Israel,” and that they were targeting nine “terror” sites and concealed rocket launchers.
They said the attacks had made “direct hits”.
Hamas said that seven of its fighters were killed in the attacks and another four were injured. The group said the strikes were launched at a Hamas meeting point in Gaza’s southern-most town of Rafah, at the Egyptian border, while another hit northern Gaza.
Tensions are high in the region, after three Jewish teenagers were kidnapped and killed in the occupied West Bank. A 16-year-old Palestinian boy was killed in east Jerusalem in what is widely believed to be a retaliation attack.
Israel on Sunday said it had arrested six Jewish suspects in the apparent revenge murder of Mohammed Abu Khudair, whose charred body was found in Jerusalem on Wednesday – just one day after Naftali Fraenkel and Gil-Ad Shaer, both 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, were buried.
The three Jewish seminary students went missing while hitchhiking on 12 June. Hamas has neither confirmed nor denied having any role in their disappearance.
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Israel said the recent air strikes followed a surge in rocket strikes at Israel from Gaza, where Hamas is the dominant force. The Israeli military said these attacks have topped 150 since mid-June, including 25 rockets striking Israel on Sunday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to his cabinet on Sunday “to do whatever is necessary” to restore quiet to southern Israeli communities.
Mr Netanyahu also cautioned against any rush toward wider confrontation with Hamas, whose arsenal includes long-range rockets that can reach Israel’s heartland and its business capital, Tel Aviv.
Monday’s fatalities were the single largest toll for Hamas since Israel’s “pillar of defence” in late 2012 was launched to halt rocket fire at its towns. In that eight-day war, some 180 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.