Israel’s air force carried out the largest daytime airstrike campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip since the 2014 war on Saturday, killing two teenagers in an escalation of violence in the region after months of deadly protests.
The Israeli air strikes came as Hamas intensified its attacks, firing dozens of mortar rounds at Israel on Friday night and throughout Saturday, some of which were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defence system.
Witnesses said the Israeli air strike hit an empty building in Gaza City and the two casualties were passers-by. A further 15 Palestinians were also reported to have been injured, as well as three Israelis.
An Israeli government official said it had decided "to take strong action against Gaza aggression".
The escalation follows violent protests on the Gaza border on Friday in which two Palestinians were also killed – a 15-year-old and a 20-year old – and more than 220 injured, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Israel said one of its soldiers was injured.
The Israeli army said it conducted strikes against Hamas "in response to the terror acts instigated during the violent riots that took place along the security fence" on Friday, as well as what it described as daily arson attacks from the Gaza strip into Israeli territory.
Israeli fighter jets hit 40 Hamas targets across the Gaza Strip in four military compounds, according to the IDF, in strikes that began in the early hours of Saturday morning and continued through the day.
In a relatively rare admission, Hamas said it fired the rockets and mortars – 60 as of Saturday night – to deter Israel from further action, as an "immediate response". Israel claims some 200 rockets were launched from Gaza at southern Israel in total.
The military attacks eclipsed similar clashes in May, and come after weeks of warnings from Israel that it does not want to pursue a new conflict to add to three wars over the past decade, but it would not tolerate Hamas militants’ continued efforts to breach the border and target Israeli border communities.
Palestinians in Gaza have been demonstrating for months against Israel’s decade-long blockade and for their right to return to lands they lost in the 1948 establishment of Israel.
Since protests began, at least 141 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire. No Israelis have been killed.