Israel and Hamas exchange fire after day of deadly protests

Palestinians watch a protest at near the Israeli fence in the southern Gaza Strip

Israeli officials said a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip hit a home in Sderot, injuring a 17-year-old girl, a 20-year-old woman and a 52-year-old man.

The airstrikes targeted roughly 40 Hamas targets, where rockets and mortars were fired from earlier this weekend.

The IDF said aircraft had attacked "an offensive terror tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip, in addition to several terror sites in military compounds throughout the Gaza Strip, among them complexes used to prepare arson terror attacks and a Hamas terror organization training facility".

The escalation in violence sparked fears that a wider military conflict could erupt after months of heightened tension along the Gaza-Israel border.

The IDF said that the number of rockets and mortar shells fired towards Israel since mid-afternoon local time had reached more than 200 on Saturday night.

Relatives of 15-year-old Othman Hellis, mourn during his funeral in the family home in Gaza City, Saturday, July 14.

"We are ready to operate simultaneously in different theaters", Conricus said, referring to the dual threats from Syria and Gaza. A senior Israeli defense official said, "Only the facts on the ground will dictate our further response".

The majority of those killed were involved in protests and clashes but others were seeking to breach or damage the border fence.

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It follows an escalation in the violence, with Israel launching "the hardest strikes" against Gaza since 2014, according to a statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Fifteen people have been wounded across Gaza, the ministry said.

It was one of the most serious flare-ups of fighting since the 2014 Israel-Gaza war, but Israel's chief military spokesman, Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis, said it was premature to say whether it heralded the start of a broader campaign against militants in the enclave, run by the Islamist movement Hamas. The army said protesters attacked soldiers with grenades, bombs, Molotov cocktails, and rocks.

On Monday, Israel announced it was shutting down the Kerem Shalom border crossing - the Strip's main crossing for commercial goods - in response to the endless stream of incendiary and explosive kites and balloons that have been flown into southern Israel, sparking fires that have burned thousands of acres of land and caused millions of shekels in damages.

The first tunnel was located in the south of the Strip inside Palestinian territory opposite Kerem Shalom, while a second tunnel in northern Gaza was hit early Saturday morning.

The Islamic militant group Hamas that rules Gaza has led border protests aimed in part at drawing attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.

The IDF said it fired back and the terrorists.

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