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Four Palestinians martyred in Gaza escalation

GAZA/JERUSALEM: Israeli aircraft and tanks hit targets across the Gaza Strip Friday after shots were fired at troops on the border, the army said, with reports that four Palestinians were martyred.

Hamas said among the four deceased three of them were its members.

A fourth Palestinian was shot dead during protests along the frontier with Israel, Gaza’s health ministry said.

The flare-up is the latest in months of tensions that have ratcheted up fears of a wider conflict between Israel and Gaza’s rulers Hamas, who have fought three wars since 2008.

An Israeli army statement said shots were fired at troops during renewed protests along the Gaza-Israel frontier and “in response… aircraft and tanks targeted military targets throughout the Gaza Strip.”

It did not say if any Israeli soldiers were hurt in the shooting.

Two Palestinians were martyred in a strike east of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, the health ministry in the enclave said.

A third man was martyred by Israeli fire east of Rafah, also in southern Gaza, the ministry said.

Hamas named the three men as Shaban abu Khatar, Mohammed abu Farhana and Mahmoud Qushta.

Israel’s military said its aircraft and tanks had targeted “eight military posts” belonging to Hamas.

A fourth man named as Mohammed Badwan was later shot dead by Israeli forces during protests along the border, Gaza’s health ministry said.

 Netanyahu in emergency briefing 

Israeli media reported Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was receiving an emergency briefing from the army on the situation.

Last weekend saw the most severe exchange of fire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since a 2014 war, raising worries of another round of conflict.

Israel hit dozens of sites it said belonged to militants in the Gaza Strip in Saturday´s strikes, killing two Palestinian teenagers.

The same day, around 200 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel from Gaza and four Israelis were wounded when a rocket hit a house in the nearby Israeli city of Sderot.

Since protests broke out on March 30, at least 149 Palestinians have been killed.

Most were shot during demonstrations and clashes along the border, but others were killed in air strikes or by tank fire.

No Israelis have been killed.

For more than a week, Israel has been hardening its response to kites and incendiary balloons launched from Gaza, which authorities say have set ablaze more than 2,600 hectares on Israeli territory.

In recent days, the Israeli army has opened fire at groups launching such devices.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has raised the threat of a large-scale operation in the Gaza Strip if Hamas does not stop the kites and balloons being launched.

Israeli television this week broadcast footage of army training manoeuvres for an incursion into the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu also conducted a tour along the border region for the first time since the start of the clashes.

Government officials such as Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan have called for systematic attacks on kite launchers.

Israel has also further tightened its blockade of Gaza by closing the only goods crossing, suspending oil and gas deliveries.

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