GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli forces and Palestinian militants exchanged fire on Monday in the most serious flare-up in months along the border with the Gaza Strip, officials said.
The latest exchange came after Israel targeted two men in an airstrike into southern Gaza on Sunday night, killing one and wounding the other. Israel said they were militant jihadists responsible for attacks.
Then, militants of the Islamic group Hamas that rules Gaza and a smaller hardline offshoot, Islamic Jihad, fired some 30 rockets toward Israel's southern border on Monday morning, causing some property damage but no casualties, said an Israeli military spokeswoman. She spoke on condition of anonymity, citing military rules.
Gaza's interior ministry said Israel's military launched around 20 tank shells and an airstrike, mostly toward targets around the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis.
Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra said five people were injured after a strike near a mosque. Another mosque was targeted nearby and a factory was targeted in east of Gaza City, according to the interior ministry.
The Israeli military spokeswoman said the houses of worship were used as "Hamas posts" but did not offer more information.
Fearing further attacks, Hamas security officials evacuated their compounds, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the group's movements.
Hamas has not confirmed the identity of the two men targeted Sunday. The Israeli military said the two were members of an al-Qaida-inspired group identified as having been involved in rocket attacks and an infiltration from Egypt.
Hamas' spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the group on Monday fired rockets back to show Israel that it could not operate freely in Gaza. "We have the right to defend ourselves," Zuhri said.
Israel and Hamas have held to a shaky, unspoken truce over the past two years but the latest exchange was the worst barrage from Gaza since June, according to the Israeli spokeswoman.
The exchange also comes in the wake of Israel downing a foreign drone over its territory on Saturday. Israeli officials would not say where the drone came from, although suspicion fell on the Lebanese group Hezbollah, a Hamas ally. On Sunday, Israeli aircrafts swooped over Lebanon, setting of sonic booms that rattled villages in the pro-Hezbollah south.