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Death tolls rise in surging Israel-Gaza fighting

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Death tolls rise in surging Israel-Gaza fighting
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REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
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Rockets and missiles from Gaza killed four civilians in Israel while Israeli strikes killed 19 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, in surging cross-border fighting on Sunday, according to Gazan officials and the Israeli military.

Israel's military said more than 600 rockets and other projectiles - over 150 of them intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile system - have been fired at southern Israeli cities and villages since Friday. It said it attacked more than 260 targets belonging to Gaza militant groups.

Gaza officials said Israeli air strikes and artillery fire killed 27 people, including 14 civilians, since Friday.

A rocket that hit a house in Ashkelon on Sunday killed a 58-year-old man, police said. He was the first such Israeli civilian fatality since the seven-week-long Gaza war in 2014.

Another rocket strike in Ashkelon killed a factory worker, a hospital official said. The military said a civilian was killed near the border by an anti-tank missile fired at his car from Gaza and a fourth died when a rocket struck the city of Ashdod.

In Gaza, militant groups identified eight fighters killed in Israeli strikes, while medical officials said that nine civilians also died, including a couple and their baby daughter.

In what it said was a separate, targeted attack, Israel's military killed Hamed Ahmed Al-Khodary, a Hamas commander. The military said he was responsible for transferring funds from Iran to armed factions in Gaza. Hamas confirmed Khodary had been killed.

The attack on his car was the first such killing by Israel of a top militant since the war five years ago. Israel had suspended what Palestinians call an assassination policy in a bid to lower tensions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he ordered the military to continue "massive strikes" against Gaza's ruling Hamas group and Islamic Jihad,

"This morning I instructed the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) to continue with massive strikes against terrorists in the Gaza Strip and I also instructed that forces around the Gaza Strip be stepped up with tank, artillery and infantry forces," Netanyahu, who doubles as Israeli defence minister, said in a statement.

How the latest round of violence started

The latest round of violence began on Friday when a Palestinian Islamic Jihad sniper fired at Israeli troops, wounding two, according to the Israeli military.

Israel retaliated with an air strike that killed two militants from the armed Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza. Two other Palestinians protesting near the frontier were killed by Israeli forces on Friday, Palestinian officials said.

Gazans were protesting along the Israeli border fence as part of the Great March of Return, a weekly demonstration at the fence which started last March and has since seen more than 200 Gazans killed, and thousands injured.

Those demonstrating in the Great March of Return demand the right of return for Palestinian refugees, as well as an end to Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

An Israeli military spokesperson said that 5,200 people had taken part in Friday’s march, in which more than 50 Palestinians were injured.

On Saturday tensions escalated quickly when Palestinian militants fired around 250 rockets into southern Israel, who hit back with tank shelling and air strikes that Palestinian officials said killed four people.

According to Gaza health ministry officials, Palestinian casualties on Saturday included a baby and her mother, and two militants from the armed Islamist group Hamas. Another 17 Palestinians were injured on that day.

But on Sunday Israeli Defense Forces denied their strikes had anything to do with the "tragic death of a mother in Gaza and her baby." "Our assessment indicates that the incident had nothing to do with IDF strikes," the Israeli Army said.

Rockets fired from Gaza on Saturday wounded two Israeli civilians, police said.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group said the rockets fired all through Saturday were a response to Friday's events and the fact that Israel has been purposely delaying implementing a series of understanding brokered by Cairo.

Israel military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said that Israel was ready to intensify attacks, blaming Islamic Jihad for destabilising the border and Hamas for not reeling them in.

Both Islamic Jihad and Hamas said they were also ready to intensify attacks if need be.

Turkey accuses Israel of targeting its state-run news agency

On Saturday Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut accused Israeli forces of targeting a building in Gaza where the offices of Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency are located and added that the attacks were a 'crime against humanity.'

Hamas confirmed it had sent representatives to Egypt to meet with Egyptian officials in an attempt to prevent further escalation in the violence.