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Israel, Gaza Militants Exchange Fire Amid Soaring Tensions

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Flags of Israel and Palestine spattered with blood
Israel struck targets in the Gaza Strip early Thursday. (Shutterstock)
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Israel struck targets in the Gaza Strip early Thursday hours after Palestinian militants fired a rocket at Israel, the military said, the latest in an uptick of violence in the region.

Israeli aircraft struck a rocket production workshop in the Gaza Strip as well as a storage site used by a rocket production line. Late Wednesday, Israeli air defenses intercepted a rocket from Gaza, the army said.

There were no reports of casualties from the rocket or the airstrikes and later Thursday the violence appeared to have subsided.

Also Thursday, Israeli media reported a 75-year-old man wounded in a Palestinian attack last year died from wounds sustained from the violence.

The exchange further raised tensions during a particularly bloody period in the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which in recent days has seen a deadly military raid in the West Bank and and a fatal Palestinian shooting attack outside a synagogue.

Last week, Gaza militants and Israel broke months of cross-border calm by exchanging rockets and airstrikes after Israel killed 10 Palestinians, most of them militants, in a military operation in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin.

The latest friction point appeared to be over Palestinian prisoners held by Israel on security charges. Israel’s National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, an ultranationalist and a senior member of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, has pledged even tougher treatment of the prisoners in recent days.

Ben-Gvir said rockets from Gaza won’t stop him from implementing punitive policies against the prisoners. He called for an urgent Security Cabinet meeting to discuss the issue.

Israel Taking Punitive Steps Against Palestinians

In Palestinian society, prisoners are generally revered as heroes, with virtually every Palestinian family having had members jailed by Israel on security charges over the course of the decades-long conflict. Several thousand are locked up at any given time, with charges ranging from stone-throwing to deadly attacks on Israelis.

Israeli-Palestinian violence has spiked in recent days as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited with a call for calm.

Last week’s army raid in the Jenin camp was followed by the shooting attack near the Jerusalem synagogue on Friday that killed seven and another Jerusalem shooting in which a 13-year-old Palestinian wounded two Israelis.

Since then, Israel has approved a series of punitive steps against the Palestinians.

The raids were sparked by a spate of Palestinian shooting attacks last spring. On Thursday, the death toll from those attacks rose to 20 after the 75-year-old man died following an extended stay in hospital. A total of 30 people were killed in Palestinian attacks last year.

Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem last year, making 2022 the deadliest year in those territories since 2004 according to a leading Israeli rights group.

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