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Israel boosts forces near Gaza as border heats up

JERUSALEM: Israel beefed up its forces along its frontier with the Gaza Strip and launched air strikes against militant Hamas targets there on Thursday in response to Palestinian cross-border rocket attacks.

Israel also faced a second day of violent Palestinian protests in Jerusalem after the discovery of the body of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy on Wednesday in a forest near the city.

Israeli police are investigating the possibility that he was the victim of a revenge killing over the deaths of three Jewish teenagers, whose abduction on June 12 Israel has blamed on Islamist Hamas militants in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said if Gaza rocket fire stopped then Israel would also halt its actions.

But he added in a speech that if “firing toward our residents in the south continues, then our bolstered forces there will act forcefully”.

Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, said troops were taking up “defence positions” in Israeli communities that have been struck by the rockets from Gaza. He did not comment on the scale of the deployment.

It is the first time since the border began to heat up in mid-June – in tandem with an Israeli military sweep and search for the three abducted Israeli youths in the West Bank – that Israel has announced troop movements near the Gaza Strip.

“We are moving and we have moved forces,” Lerner said in a conference call with foreign journalists. “Everything we are doing is to de-escalate the situation but on the other hand to be prepared if they don’t de-escalate.”

Israel has “no interest in deepening the conflict with Gaza – the absolute opposite is true”, he added.

Abu Ubaida, spokesman for Hamas’ armed wing, Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam Brigades, accused Israel of breaching a ceasefire brokered after a 2012 eight-day cross-border war, and said the group would respond according to developments on the ground. “Our people know well how to exact a heavy price from the enemy,” Ubaida said at a news conference in Gaza- Reuters

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