Israel has said it carried out airstrikes on what it described as militant sites in Gaza in response to machine gun fire that hit a building in the Israeli city of Sderot.
The army said planes bombarded a military compound and a weapons production facility in the Gaza Strip on Thursday.
Shortly after midnight, a loud explosion shook buildings at a built-up area in the northern part of Gaza City. Trucks carrying men rushed to the apparent site of the blast through empty streets, which were dark during a power cut.
One man was moderately wounded by shrapnel, the Palestinian health ministry said. The airstrikes took place hours after Israeli forces came under fire from within Gaza, in which Israel’s military said no one was injured.
Tens of thousands of people have been protesting along the fortified border with Israel since 30 March, calling for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to be allowed to return to their homes now inside Israel.
Protesters have also hoped to draw attention to a dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where the economy has collapsed under an Egyptian-Israeli blockade since the Islamist group Hamas took power in 2007. Most of Gaza’s residents are descendants of refugees. Gaza has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the world.
Weeks of mass protests and bloodshed along the border may now be reaching a lull as Ramadan begins. Organisers have said while people were fasting during daylight hours of the holy month, protests would begin in the late afternoon when the temperature drops. Late-night prayers would also be held at the protest sites, they added.
The high death toll from Israeli fire has led to international condemnations of Israel and calls for an independent investigation. Israel has rejected those calls, saying its actions were necessary to stop mass infiltrations from the enclave.
The demonstrations were initially meant to end this week. Both sides were waiting to see whether protests would continue on Friday, the day when the rallies over the past six weeks usually peaked.
A Hamas spokesman said plans were in place for a mass gathering on 5 June, the anniversary of the first day of the six-day war, in which Israeli forces captured East Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories, including Gaza. The day is commemorated annually by Palestinians as the “naksa”, or setback.
“The protests will continue because they have not achieved their goals yet,” said Hazem Qasem. “Our desire here is for 5 June to be as big as 14 May,” he said, referring to protest to mark the 70th anniversary of the “nakba”, or catastrophe, when Palestinians were displaced by the founding of the Israeli state.
Israel has accused Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since 2008, of seeking to use the border protests as cover to carry out violence. Hamas has denied Israeli claims that it orchestrated the events, saying it supports them but that they were a popular and organic outpouring of anger.
The man credited with instigating the protest movement, Ahmad Abu Artema, has said he welcomes support from any political faction that supports peaceful resistance.
On Wednesday, a senior Hamas official, Salah Bardawil, claimed 50 of the people killed on Monday were its members. Israel’s military said those comments proved the protests were not peaceful.
Bardawil did not say whether the 50 were fighters from Hamas’s armed wing, or whether they were just regular members. Hamas, classified by many western countries as a terrorist group, says its members have joined the movement unarmed.
In May last year, Hamas presented a new charter accepting the idea of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories, not all of historical Palestine, a move that was seen as a softening from the militant faction’s founding charter that advocates Israel’s destruction.
Arab foreign ministers held a meeting on Thursday in Cairo to discuss the violence. On Wednesday Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, said his officials were in communication with both sides “so that this bloodshed would stop”.
Source : www.theguardian.com