Palestinian rocket fire draws Israeli air strikes in Gaza

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GAZA (Reuters) -Palestinian militants fired a rocket toward a city in southern Israel on Saturday, drawing Israeli air strikes, the Israeli military said, after months of relative calm in the area.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in Gaza or Israel, which intercepted the rocket that was launched toward the city of Ashkelon, setting off air raid sirens and sending residents to bomb shelters.

Israel said Hamas, the Islamist militant group which controls Gaza, fired the rocket.

“In response to the rocket attack, Israel Defence Forces aircraft struck a number of Hamas terror targets in the Gaza Strip,” the Israeli military said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Hamas’s political wing, Hazem Qassem, declined to comment on the Israeli allegation and referred Reuters to the group’s military wing which did not immediately comment.

The Israel-Gaza frontier has been relatively calm since May 2021, when Israel and Palestinian militants fought an 11-day war.

Although Saturday’s cross-border fire did not appear to signal a wider escalation, violence has risen in the occupied West Bank and in Israel in recent months.

On Friday, Israeli troops killed three Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank city of Jenin, where military raids have been stepped up after men from the area carried out several lethal street attacks in Israel.

Hamas said one of the gunmen was among its members, while another militant group that draws on members of Palestinian faction Islamic Jihad claimed the dead gunmen as its own.

Qassem said Saturday’s Israeli air strikes were a “helpless attempt to end the revolutionary actions spreading across Palestine”.

U.S.-brokered peace talks aiming to establish a Palestinian state in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza collapsed in 2014 and there is no sign of their revival.

U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders during a visit to the region in July.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Maayan Lubell in JerusalemWriting by Maayan LubellEditing by Clarence Fernandez and Mark Potter)