Israeli shells hit Gaza after militant mortar attack

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 11:58 AM

GAZA (Reuters) - Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip wounded five Hamas security officers and a boy on Saturday after militants launched mortar bombs into Israel, lightly injuring two people, Gaza medics and the army said.

The Israeli military confirmed dozens of mortar shells had landed in Israel, one hitting a house at an agricultural community close to the border, and that two people were hurt.

Israeli media reports put the number of shells fired by militants at around 50, making it one of the heaviest barrages launched by militants for months.

Islamist Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, claimed responsibility for firing 10 of Saturday's mortars, an unusual move after a long period in which it had let other smaller militant groups do its bidding.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement he "viewed gravely Hamas's criminal attacks on Israeli citizens" and added that "Israel would take all necessary measures to protect its citizens."

Gaza residents reported hearing constant shelling along the enclave's border with Israel and the Israeli spokesman said tanks assisted by aircraft were firing at militant targets in the coastal strip.

Israel maintains a partial blockade of the Gaza Strip to try to curb Hamas and other militant groups who refuse to recognize it or join peace moves by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's rival Fatah faction, which rules the occupied West Bank.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Sophie Hares)