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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

Israel carries out airstrikes on Hamas targets in Gaza

Civilian homes were damaged in the strikes which came as the Israeli military said it would close border crossings between Gaza and Israel

A protester holds up a Palestinian flag during clashes near the Gaza border with Israel following demonstrations against US president Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the east of Gaza City on December 13, 2017. Mohammed Saber / EPA
A protester holds up a Palestinian flag during clashes near the Gaza border with Israel following demonstrations against US president Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the east of Gaza City on December 13, 2017. Mohammed Saber / EPA

Civilian homes were damaged in a series of Israeli air strikes against Hamas targets in Gaza early on Thursday, as the Israeli military announced it would close border crossings between the blockaded Palestinian territory and Israel.

It came as Hamas marked the 30th anniversary of its founding with a mass rally in Gaza on Thursday, staging a show of strength at a low point in the militant group's history.

The Israeli military claimed it was closing both border crossings with Gaza "due to the security events and in accordance with security assessments" — a reference to ongoing protests by Gaza residents and an increase in rocket fire from the territory following US president Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last week.

But such closures exacerbate Israel's blockade on Hamas-controlled Gaza which has already had a devastating impact on the economy and the health of residents.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said she could not say whether the closures would be for one day or more.

Earlier in the day, the military carried out 10 airstrikes on Hamas targets, which included a naval facility and a military base near the Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza, a Palestinian security source said.

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The source said there had been significant damage to the targets, as well as lesser damage to nearby houses, where some residents suffered minor injuries.

The Israeli army said its airstrikes targeted three Hamas military facilities in different parts of Gaza, adding that it was a response to rocket fire from the territory.

It claimed the facilities were used as "training and weapons storage compounds".

The strikes came hours after Israel's air defence system intercepted two rockets fired from Gaza.

Such rockets are generally fired by fringe Islamist groups but Israel holds Hamas responsible for any fire from the territory.

There has been an increase in rocket fire from Gaza since Wednesday last week — when Mr Trump made his speech recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — with 12 projectiles being fired at Israel. Israeli retaliatory strikes have meanwhile targeted 10 sites in the Palestinian territory.

The recent rocket fire has not caused any casualties in Israel.

Since unrest erupted last week over Mr Trump's declaration, four Gazans have been killed — two in clashes with Israeli forces along the border and two in an Israeli air strike.

Tens of thousands turned out for the Hamas rally on Thursday, which took place at Al Katiba Square in Gaza City.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a combative speech that the United States and Israel have found themselves isolated following Mr Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The militant group has called for a new Palestinian uprising against Israel in response to that recognition.

"We salute the beginning of rage, intifada and revolution," Mr Haniyeh told the large crowd that filled the square.

Mr Trump's decision last week has triggered Palestinian protests in both the West Bank and Gaza, including some that escalated into deadly clashes with Israeli troops, but it remains unclear whether widespread Palestinian anger at the US will lead to a full-fledged uprising.

Hamas' rival, the Fatah movement of West Bank-based Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, seeks to establish a Palestinian state in lands Israel captured in 1967, with east Jerusalem as a capital. Hamas, however, wants to set up an Islamic state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, which includes Israel.

Hamas's anniversary came at a difficult time in its turbulent history.

A decade after seizing Gaza by force, it has been compelled to seek reconciliation with Mr Abbas's Fatah.

An Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal between the two groups in October has seen Hamas give up control of Gaza's crossings, but differences over collecting revenues hinder its progress.

Hamas blames an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade, lack of support from Arab and Muslim nations, and Mr Abbas' alleged attempts to undermine the group for the hardships in Gaza.

The coastal territory suffers from 43 per cent unemployment and worsening blackouts. In recent days, rolling blackouts lasted for 24 hours, followed by four hours of electricity.