“Massive” rocket fire from Hamas-governed Palestinian territory has been reported by Israeli police on Wednesday morning. Reuters news agency said that more than 35 rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel.
There were no injuries or damage, said a police spokesman.
Hours before the rocket fire, six Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops. Since a truce was declared in June, it was the first clash between Israeli troops and Hamas fighters.
Late on Tuesday, three other people were injured in the incident, in which an Israeli air strike was involved. After Israeli soldiers moved to destroy “a tunnel aimed at abducting soldiers” about 300m inside Gaza, Hamas fighters and Israeli border troops fired at each other.
Mazen Seada, a senior Hamas commander in central Gaza, was killed during the clashes, and three other Palestinians were wounded, including a woman, said Dr Moaiya Hassanain, a Palestinian health ministry official.
Shortly afterwards, Hamas said it fired mortars at southern Israel and the army said it launched an air strike at the mortar launchers and hit them.
The death of four fighters, killed in the air strike, was confirmed by Hamas radio.
A tank shell killed another fighter, said Gaza medics.
Vowing revenge, Hamas said on its military wing’s website that its “response will be harsh, and the enemy will pay a heavy price”.
Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said : “The aggression is a major violation of the agreement. If such raids are repeated, fighting will not be limited only to the area east of the central Gaza Strip.”
He also said that the raid proved that Israel was not interested in continuing the ceasefire, though he stopped short after saying Hamas would abandon it.
According to Israel,Tuesday’s raid was not a violation of the ceasefire, but rather a legitimate step to remove an immediate threat.
The tunnel had been dug from inside a Gaza home, which illustrates that Hamas was using civilians for cover, said a senior Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Truce ‘not violated’
Reached in June, the Egyptian-mediated truce halted a deadly cycle of Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli bombardment.
Both sides claimed they had not violated the ceasefire.
While the army said it was acting to remove an immediate threat to Israel, Hamas said it was trying to prevent an Israeli incursion.
Despite the truce, Israel has closed its crossings into the coastal strip of 1.4 million Palestinians. It mostly kept the crippling siege it imposed on the area after Hamas forcibly took over the territory from Fatah forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, in June last year.
And in spite of the ceasefire, sporadic rocket attacks on southern Israel from Gaza have also persisted.
In June 2006, Palestinian fighters who tunnelled across the border seized Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier.
In exchange for his return, the fighters still demand the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.