Israel unleashed a wave of airstrikes in Gaza on Friday that it said targeted Islamic militants amid days of heightened tensions.
It was not immediately clear what Israel was targeting or if anyone had been killed or wounded, but the strikes risked igniting yet another war in the territory, which is ruled by Hamas and is home to about two million Palestinians.
A blast could be heard in Gaza City, where smoke poured out of the seventh floor of a tall building.
Israel had closed roads around Gaza earlier this week and sent reinforcements to the border as it braced for a revenge attack after the arrest of a senior Islamic militant in the occupied West Bank on Monday. A teenager was also killed in a gun battle between Israeli troops and Palestinian militants.
People assist an injured person after an explosion in Gaza City on Friday, as Israel said it was striking the area. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)
Earlier on Friday, a few hundred Israelis protested near the Gaza Strip to demand the return of a captive and the remains of two Israeli soldiers held by the territory’s Hamas rulers.
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz visited communities near Gaza on Friday, saying authorities were preparing “actions that will remove the threat from this region,” without elaborating.
The protesters were led by the family of Hadar Goldin, who along with Oron Shaul was killed in the 2014 Gaza war. Hamas is still holding their remains, as well as two Israeli civilians who strayed into Gaza and are believed to be mentally ill, hoping to exchange them for some of the thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
The protesters pushed through two police checkpoints on a road near the heavily guarded Gaza frontier before stopping at a third.
Israelis march to demand the return of captive Israelis and the remains of soldiers held in Gaza, near Kibbutz Yad Mordechai close to the Israel-Gaza border on Friday. (Ariel Schalit/The Associated Press)
Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies that have fought four wars and dozens of smaller skirmishes since Hamas seized control of Gaza 15 years ago.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a tight blockade over the territory throughout that time. Israel says the closure is needed to prevent Hamas from building up its military capabilities, while critics say the policy amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s two million Palestinian residents.
Israel says there can be no major moves toward lifting the blockade until the soldiers’ remains and captive civilians are released. Israel and Hamas have held numerous rounds of Egyptian-mediated talks on a possible swap.
Israeli soldiers stand near their tanks in an area near the Gaza Strip on Friday. (Ariel Schalit/The Associated Press)
Gantz meanwhile warned Hamas and other militant groups that Israel would not tolerate threats on communities near Gaza.
Ahmed Mudalal, an Islamic Jihad official in Gaza, said the group had made demands of Israel through Egyptian mediators, including the release of the detained militant and another prisoner, a halt to West Bank raids and the lifting of the Gaza blockade. He said they have not yet received a response.
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