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Fighting between Israel and Hamas escalates on the Gaza border

Fighting between Israel and Hamas escalates on the Gaza border
A fireball explodes during Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City on Aug. 8, 2018. (Mahmud Hams / AFP/Getty Images)

Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, fired at least 70 rockets Wednesday across the border into Israel, which retaliated with airstrikes on the Palestinian territory.

Israel intercepted 11 rockets, but a house and at least three other sites in the southern Israeli city of Sderot were hit, according to the Israeli army. Nine Israelis were taken to the hospital with moderate injuries.

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In Gaza, authorities reported that five people suffered serious injuries. Palestinian media reported that one man was killed.

Tensions between Israel and Gaza have been high since the Trump administration announced in December that it was moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, but Israel claims the city in its entirety as its capital.

Gazans began weekly protests along the border in late March, demanding a right to return to their ancestral homes in Israel. Palestinian authorities there say that Israel has killed 155 Palestinians in strikes to contain the protests. On the Israeli side, one soldier was killed.

The latest round of violence came a day after the Turkish Anadolu news agency, which often transmits messages from Hamas, reported that a cease-fire agreement was imminent.

The Israeli army said it targeted “12 terror sites” in Gaza, including several military compounds and a tunnel along the Mediterranean coast through which militants could access Israel. Gazans reported seeing massive explosions in their port.

The strikes were a response to rocket attacks as well as shots fired at civilians working on the border fence, Israeli officials said.

Rocket fire from Gaza continued into the night as Israeli air raid sirens blared. Two hundred thousand Israeli civilians living in border communities were ordered to spend the night in shelters, and summer camps were instructed to operate only within reinforced shelters on Thursday. The army also banned large public events.

On Wednesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman convened a special meeting to discuss the escalating violence, and military analysts predicted that the military would launch a bigger operation if the attacks on Israeli communities continued.

In Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a midnight emergency meeting with military and Defense Ministry officials.

With elections scheduled for next year, Israeli opposition lawmakers slammed Netanyahu for failing to achieve a lasting truce despite ongoing Egyptian attempts to mediate.

"Netanyahu and Lieberman! You failed!" Avi Gabbay, the Labor Party leader tweeted. "Is this how to run a negotiation? Our hearts are with the residents of the Gaza border region and we support the army in its mission of restoring security to residents of the area."

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said that Hamas had fulfilled its promise “to avenge the blood of the martyrs.”

Tarnopolsky is a special correspondent. Hana Salah, also a special correspondent, contributed to this report from Gaza City.

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