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"As of now, approximately 70 rocket launches were identified from the Gaza Strip at Israeli territory", the army said in a statement. This will have a 6 m-high fence on top and sensors to alert operators of any suspicious activity. It also disputed Israel's account, saying shots were fired as part of a graduation ceremony for a group of fighters inside the camp. "Hamas will lose another strategic ability, in which it invested large sums".

A senior IDF officer referred to the escalation in Gaza overnight Thursday and said that "We've had a round of escalation whose end I do not see".

Incoming rocket sirens continued to wail throughout southern Israel, including the city of Ashkelon, as projectiles continued to be launched from the Gaza Strip on Thursday as Israeli jets and tanks continued to pound the coastal enclave.

A senior Israeli military official said Thursday that the army is "nearing war with Gaza" and would evacuate Israelis living in communities adjacent to the border if necessary.

Seven Israelis were wounded by rocket shrapnel, while three Palestinians including a 23-year-old pregnant woman and her 18-month-old child were killed in airstrikes.

It was not clear if the escalation, the latest in a series of intense exchanges of fire in recent months, would derail the indirect negotiations between Israel and Gaza's Hamas militant rulers.

Jamie McGoldrick, the United Nations' humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, in a news release called Israel's restriction of fuel imports "a unsafe practice, with grave consequences on the rights of people in Gaza".

He added that the bombardment also caused moderate wounds to Enas's husband, Mohammad Khammash.

A 30-year-old Hamas affiliate was killed in the strikes, Gaza Health Ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qedra said.

Most of the rockets fired by Palestinian militants landed in open areas, but at least two hit the Israeli town of Sderot near the Gaza Strip and sirens sounded throughout the night, sending residents to bomb shelters.

Earlier the same day, the Israeli army shelled a Hamas position in Gaza in retaliation for an alleged Palestinian attack on Israeli military equipment deployed near the buffer zone.

The Gaza Strip, home to almost two million Palestinians, has been reeling under a crippling Israeli blockade since 2007.

"The Israeli strike was conducted in response to the rockets launched from the Gaza Strip at Israeli territory over the course of the evening and night", it said in a statement.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007.

On Wednesday, UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov condemned the Hamas rocket fire and called for both sides to step away from the brink.

More than 160 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the Great March of Return protests were launched at the end of March.

"What is required is for calm to be restored along the border between us and the Zionist enemy".


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