GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories: Barrage of rockets from Gaza hit Israel late Friday, the army said, hours after five Palestinians were killed during clashes on the Israeli border, in a flareup that could jeopardize truce efforts.
The largest projectile attacks in months which continued into Saturday and border fatalities came despite talk of progress toward an Egyptian-brokered deal to end the months of often violent protests along the border.
“At least 14 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israeli civilians,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said on Twitter.
“Iron Dome has so far intercepted 10, saving many lives,” he said.
Israeli medics said seven civilians were being treated for shock.
In response to the rockets, Israeli fighter jets and helicopters were “striking terror targets in the Gaza Strip,” the army said in a statement early Saturday.
And army chief of staff, General Gadi Eisenkot, held a “situation assessment” at the military’s Tel Aviv headquarters along with senior officials from the Shin Bet internal security agency.
The Israeli strikes hit three sites belonging to Hamas, the militant Islamist rulers of Gaza, with no immediate reports of injuries.
Islamic Jihad, the second largest militant group in Gaza, hailed the rocket fire in a statement as a response to “Israeli aggressions,” stopping short however of directly claiming responsibility for the launches.
A Hamas official said that following the escalation that Egypt was again seeking to negotiate a return to calm.
Earlier, five Palestinians aged between 22 and 27 died in separate incidents along the border fence, the Gaza health ministry said.
The army did not comment on the deaths but said around 16,000 “rioters and demonstrators” had gathered along the border, with some setting tires alight and hurling rocks, firebombs and grenades toward soldiers.
Troops responded with “riot dispersal means,” a spokesman added.
Three of the men were shot dead east of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza, while one was killed east of Jabalia in the north of the coastal territory, the health ministry said.
A fifth man died east of Bureij in central Gaza when a hand grenade he was holding exploded accidentally, witnesses said.
Palestinians have gathered for protests along the Gaza Strip’s border at least weekly since March 30.
At least 212 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza since the protests began, according to figures collated by AFP.
The majority have died during protests, while smaller numbers have been killed by airstrikes and tank fire.
One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper along the border in the same period.
The protesters are calling to be allowed to return to lands their families fled or were expelled from in a 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel and which are now inside the Jewish state.
They are also protesting over Israel’s crippling blockade of Gaza.
Israel accuses Hamas of orchestrating the often violent demonstrations.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008 and much of the international community considers the Islamist movement a terrorist organization.
The fresh violence could also scupper hopes of a deal to end the months of protests.
Egypt and the United Nations have been brokering indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel with the aim of calming the situation amid fears of another war.
Last week, a rocket fired from Gaza hit an Israeli home, narrowly avoiding killing a family. In response the Israeli army carried out air strikes on around 20 Hamas targets in Gaza.
The London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat reported Friday that a deal had been reached that would see the protests end in exchange for an easing of Israel’s blockade.
Hamas officials denied a deal had been struck but confirmed to AFP that progress was being made.
“We expect to reach an agreement very soon,” a senior Hamas official said earlier Friday on condition of anonymity.
Israel also fully reopened its border crossings with the Gaza Strip this week following a week of relative calm.
It allowed dozens of trucks of fuel paid for by Qatar into the strip, having previously banned their entry in response to the border violence.
Israel says the decade-long blockade is necessary to isolate Hamas, while critics say it amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s two million residents.