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BREAKING NEWS

Death toll rises as over 400 rockets fired at Israel from Gaza

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Palestinian children stand atop the remains of a building that was destroyed during an Israeli air strike on Rafah in the southern Gaza strip on Sunday. -
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SAID KHATIB
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Tensions continued to rise Sunday as civilian casualties increased on both sides of the border after some 430 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza in less than 24 hours, in one of the most intense flareups of violence in the region in years

The barrage of rockets from Gaza started Saturday morning, prompting Israel to retaliate with airstrikes.

Seven Palestinians, including a pregnant mother and her baby, were killed and fifty more have been hurt in the Palestinian enclave, according to Ashraf al Qudra, a Palestinian Health Ministry spokesman,who named the dead on Facebook.

Israeli authorities said that an early morning rocket killed an Israeli man Sunday outside a home in the coastal city of Ashkelon. More than 80 others have been injured — with many suffering from stress, according to the MDA, Israel's emergency health service.

The man is the first Israeli to be killed by rocket fire in the Israel-Palestine conflict since 2014, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Rocket fire from Gaza is being partially blocked by Israel's Iron Dome aerial defense system. Spokesman for the IDF, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, said the air shield "saved countless lives," intercepting 150 rockets.

Palestinian children stand atop the remains of a building that was destroyed during an Israeli air strike on Rafah in the southern Gaza strip on Sunday.
Palestinian children stand atop the remains of a building that was destroyed during an Israeli air strike on Rafah in the southern Gaza strip on Sunday.SAID KHATIB

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he instructed the IDF to continue "the massive attacks against terrorist elements in the Gaza Strip," adding that he reinforced Israeli presence around the Gaza Strip with armored forces, artillery and infantry.

Netanyahu also asked Israelis in affected areas to strictly observe the "life-saving orders" from military officials.

Sirens wailed along the border region overnight warning of incoming attacks. School has been cancelled in southern Israel Sunday and emergency protocol has been enacted. In Gaza, large explosions thundered across the blockaded enclave overnight as plumes of smoke rose into the air.

The sudden outburst of fighting broke a month-long lull as Egyptian mediators had been trying to negotiate a long-term cease-fire between the two sides, who have fought three wars and several other rounds of conflict over the last decade.

Conricus, the IDF spokesman, said Sunday his side was not aware of any ceasefire talks.

Meanwhile, Israeli fighter jets attacked 220 targets inside the Gaza Strip. The military said it struck rocket launchers, tunnel shafts and weapons manufacturing factories belonging to both Hamas, an Islamic militant group that controls Gaza and is backed by Iran.

Conricus said the Palestinian mother and child who were killed on Saturday were not killed by an Israeli weapon. "It was from internal fire," he said.

The heightened tensions come as Israel marks Memorial Day and Independence Day this week, when masses head out to ceremonies at military cemeteries and then street parties across the country. The following week it hosts the Eurovision song contest for which large groups of tourists are expected to arrive.

For Gazans, the violence comes ahead of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan that begins Monday.

Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, most recently engaged in several days of heavy fighting with Israel in March before Egypt brokered a truce, in which Israel agreed to ease a crippling blockade on Gaza in exchange for a halt in rocket fire.

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Residents gather in front of a building that was damaged during a rocket strike on the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon near the Gaza border.
Residents gather in front of a building that was damaged during a rocket strike on the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon near the Gaza border.JACK GUEZ

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In recent days, Hamas accused Israel of reneging on its pledges as militants began to fire rockets into Israel. Israel in turn accuses Islamic Jihad of instigating the latest round of violence by shooting and wounding two Israeli soldiers Friday. In response, Israeli aircraft carried out retaliatory strikes, killing two Hamas militants.

On Friday, two Palestinians were fatally shot by Israeli forces during the weekly protests along Israel-Gaza perimeter fence.

Hamas has hoped that Egyptian mediators could further ease the blockade, which has ravaged Gaza's economy.

For over a year, the Islamic group has orchestrated mass demonstrations each week along the Israeli frontier to draw attention to Gaza's plight. More than 200 Palestinians and an Israeli soldier have been killed in the border protests.