GAZA (Reuters) - Violence erupted along the Israel-Gaza border on Wednesday as Israeli forces and Palestinian militants exchanged fire and Israeli war jets bombed targets in the enclave, ruled by the Islamist Hamas group.
There were no immediate reports of any casualties in the rare flare-up along the frontier, which has been largely quiet since a 2014 war.
The outbreak of violence coincided with work by the Israeli military to uncover tunnels being built by Gaza militants which Israel fears could be used to infiltrate its territory. The Palestinians fired mortar bombs at Israeli forces operating near the border fence, prompting fire from Israeli tanks and war planes that bombed open areas in the northern and southern sectors of the Gaza Strip. "Our efforts to destroy the Hamas terror tunnel network, agrave violation of Israel's sovereignty, will not cease or bedeterred," said military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel PeterLerner. The Hamas armed wing, Izz el-Deen Al-Qassam Brigades, saidthe raid was a violation of the 2014 ceasefire and demanded that Israel pull out its forces "immediately". "The enemy must not make pretexts and must leave Gazaimmediately, they should deal with their fears and concernsoutside the separation line," said the group.
On Tuesday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inspected a large tunnel Israel discovered in April on the Israeli side of the border. Israel said it had been dug by Hamas.
Israeli security sources say half a dozen classifiedanti-tunnel technologies have long been under development, though held up by funding problems that were partly alleviated by a U.S. research grant of $40 million this year.
Hamas leaders, while stressing they do not seek an imminentwar, see tunnels as a strategic weapon in any armed confrontation with Israel and have vowed not to stop building them.
More than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed during the 2014 Gaza conflict. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed by rockets and attacks by Hamas and other militant groups.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Gareth Jones)