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Israeli warplanes continue to pound hapless Gaza, Hamas retaliates with rockets

Israel says the blockade is needed to keep Hamas from expanding its arsenal, but critics view it as a form of collective punishment.

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Israel tanks and warplanes bombed Hamas positions in Gaza Friday and the militants retaliated with rockets as a three-week-old flare-up showed no let-up despite international mediation efforts.

Warning sirens sounded before dawn in Israeli communities near the border as the pre-dawn air strikes and shelling prompted Hamas to launch a salvo of six rockets in retaliation.

Blockade on Gaza tightens: Israel and Hamas continue to trade blows

The Palestinian Islamist group, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, said the rockets were a “direct response to the escalation by the Israeli occupier”.

Israel launched a new wave of strikes in reprisal, targeting “additional Hamas military targets” in Gaza, including a “weapons manufacturing site”, the military said.

Read more: Israel turns the heat on Gaza following balloon attack

Israel has bombed Gaza almost daily since August 6, in response to the airborne incendiary devices and, less frequently, rockets launched across the border.

The fire bombs, crude devices fitted to balloons, inflated condoms or plastic bags, have triggered more than 400 blazes in southern Israel, according to fire brigade figures.

The fire balloons are widely seen as an attempt by Hamas to improve the terms of an informal truce under which Israel committed to ease its 13-year-old blockade in return for calm on the border.

Read more: Israel warns Hamas of war while Israeli bombs devastate parts of Gaza

But so far Israel’s response has been to tighten the blockade.

It has banned Gaza fishermen from going to sea and closed its goods crossing with the territory, prompting the closure of Gaza’s sole power plant for want of fuel.

Mitigating the flare-ups to prevent an all-out war

An Egyptian delegation has been shuttling between the two sides to try to broker a renewal of the truce.

Read more: Egypt attempts mediation after Israeli bombing of Gaza

It was joined this week by Qatar’s Gaza envoy Mohammed el-Emadi who delivered the latest tranche of $30 million in aid to the territory on Tuesday before holding talks with Israeli officials in Tel Aviv.

Sources close to the Qatari delegation said the Israelis had told Emadi they were willing to resume fuel deliveries for the power plant and ease their blockade if there was an end to the fire balloons.

Financial aid for the impoverished territory from gas-rich Qatar has been a major component of the latest truce first agreed in November 2018 and renewed several times since.

Read more: Qatar stays quiet about “Abraham accord” in talks with Palestinian authorities

But Israel also undertook to other measures to alleviate unemployment of more than 50 percent in the territory of some two million people.

Disagreements over their implementation have fuelled repeated flare-ups on the border.

Such flare-ups escalated into major conflicts in 2008, 2012 and 2014, and mediators have been striving to prevent a new war.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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