Netanyahu ordered massive strikes in Gaza

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he ordered the military to continue “massive strikes” against Gaza’s ruling Hamas group and Islamic Jihad, in the most serious border clashes since a spate of fighting in November, news wires reported. In a statement announcing that Israel would press on with its attacks, Netanyahu, who doubles as defense minister, also ordered forces around the Gaza Strip to be “stepped up with tanks, artillery and infantry”.

Rockets from Gaza killed three people in an Israeli city while five Palestinian militants died on Sunday in surging cross-border fighting that included a return by Israel to singling out enemy commanders for attack. Israel’s military said more than 450 rockets, many intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile system, have been fired at southern Israeli cities and villages since Friday, and it attacked some 220 targets belonging to Gaza militant groups. In a separate strike it described as a targeted attack, Israel’s military killed Hamed Ahmed Al-Khodary, a Hamas commander. The military said he was responsible for transferring funds from Iran to armed factions in Gaza.

The latest round of violence began two days ago when an Islamic Jihad sniper fired at Israeli troops, wounding two soldiers, according to the Israeli military. Islamic Jihad accused Israel of delaying implementation of previous understandings brokered by Egypt aimed at ending violence and easing blockaded Gaza’s economic hardship. Israeli strategic affairs analysts said, both Islamic Jihad and Hamas militants appeared to believe they had some leverage to press for concessions from Israel, where Independence Day celebrations begin on Wednesday. In two weeks Israel is also hosting the Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv, the target of a Gaza rocket attack in March.

For residents in Gaza, the escalation comes a day before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins in the territory on Monday.

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