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Israel kills two teenagers in Gaza and bombs ‘military targets’

Israeli soldiers and border police stand guard as Israeli hydraulic shovels demolish a Palestinian building near road 35, north of the occupied West Bank city of Hebron in the so-called “Area C” on February 14, 2018. (Hazem Bader/AFP)
GAZA CITY: Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinian teenagers in the Gaza Strip as tensions rose after an apparent bomb attack that wounded several Israeli soldiers on the besieged territory’s border.
The Saturday explosion and ensuing Israeli airstrikes marked one of the most serious escalations in the Hamas-ruled territory since the movement and Israel fought a war in 2014.
Israel’s army said it attacked “18 terror targets belonging to the Hamas terror organization” in two waves of airstrikes.
“Eight targets were attacked in a military compound near Deir El-Balah, which belongs to the Hamas terror organization, including weapon-manufacturing and training infrastructures,” it said.
Earlier the army said fighter jets had targeted “six military targets in Gaza belonging to Hamas, including a terror tunnel in the Zaytun area and military compounds near Deir El-Balah and Khan Yunis.”
Two Palestinians were injured in airstrikes which hit three bases belonging to Hamas in the east of the blockaded Gaza enclave, Palestinian sources said. Speaking at a security conference in Munich late Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called the border blast “very serious” and pledged to “respond appropriately.”
According to witnesses, the two dead Palestinians were shot by Israeli forces near the border on Saturday.
They were identified by the Gaza health ministry as Salam Sabah and Abdullah Abu Sheikha, both 17, who were killed east of Rafah in the south of the enclave.
They were to be buried later on Sunday.
The Israeli army said that its forces had fired “warning shots” at a number of Palestinians approaching the border fence “in a suspicious manner.”
Four Israeli soldiers were wounded, two severely, when an improvised explosive device blew up along the Gaza border fence, but none of their lives were in danger, the army said.
A hospital spokeswoman later said that the condition of one of those seriously wounded had improved.
Spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said a “rogue group” had claimed responsibility for the bomb blast, likely indicating one of the more radical groups who are present in Gaza.
But he insisted that “from our point of view Hamas is responsible” and said the explosive had been planted during a protest arranged by the group on Friday.
According to Conricus, Israeli soldiers saw a flag on a pole on the Gazan side of the border fence, with the device exploding when one of them grabbed it.
According to Palestinian security sources, the explosion took place east of the city of Khan Yunis.
In response Israeli forces said a tank promptly opened fire at an “observation post” in southern Gaza, causing no injuries on the Palestinian side.
A projectile launched from the Gaza Strip hit near a home in a southern Israeli community, damaging a building but causing no injuries, Israeli authorities said.
The Israeli army responds automatically to any strikes on its territory, generally targeting Hamas facilities.
Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, said it had fired at Israeli jets overhead.
Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008, and the last conflict in 2014 was waged in part over tunnels from Gaza that were used to launch attacks. The wars have had a devastating impact on the Palestinian civilians trapped in Gaza, killing hundreds and further decimating their homes and infrastructure. Israel hit Hamas targets in the southern Gaza Strip repeatedly in early February, saying Palestinians there had fired a rocket into its territory.
Tensions between the Palestinians and Israel have been high since US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state in December.
Netanyahu will visit the White House next month, a senior US administration official told AFP on Friday.
The March 5 visit comes as Netanyahu faces a scandal that has seen police recommend he be indicted for graft.

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