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Israel hits Gaza as conflict flares

The cross-border fire came after an Israeli raid in Jenin that led to the largest single death toll in years of fighting. -- AFP
The cross-border fire came after an Israeli raid in Jenin that led to the largest single death toll in years of fighting. -- AFP

JERUSALEM/GAZA: Israeli jets struck Gaza on Friday in retaliation for the rockets fired by gunmen in Gaza.

There were no reports of casualties on either side and there was no immediate sign of escalation into a more serious conflict of the kind seen repeatedly over recent years with armed groups firing hundreds of rockets and Israel pounding Gaza.

The overnight exchange followed an Israeli raid on a refugee camp in the West Bank on Thursday that killed at least nine Palestinians, bringing the Palestinian death toll so far in 2023 to at least 30.

The deaths, which included gunmen as well as at least two civilians, left the highest single-day death toll in the West Bank in years, with another man killed in a separate incident in Al Ramm outside Jerusalem.

The raid, the latest in a near-daily series of clashes in the West Bank over the past year, came days before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was due to visit Israel and the West Bank. Washington called for calm from both sides.

In Gaza, thousands of people rallied following Friday prayers, calling for the fight against Israel to be stepped up in the wake of the Jenin raid. "We didn't sleep the whole night, bombing and missiles," said 50-year-old Abdallah al Husary. "There is worry and there is fear, any minute a war can happen. With any clash in the West Bank, there can be war along the borders in Gaza."

The months of violence in the West Bank, which surged after a spate of lethal attacks in Israel last year, have drawn fears the already unpredictable conflict could spiral out of control, triggering a broader confrontation between Palestinians and Israel.

The latest season of violence began under the previous coalition government and has continued following the election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new right-wing administration which includes ultra-nationalist parties that want to expand settlements in the West Bank.

In the wake of Thursday's raid, the Palestinian Authority said it was suspending a security cooperation arrangement with Israel.

In Jenin refugee camp, a densely packed mass of buildings and alleyways that has been a centre of militant activity and the target of repeated Israeli raids, residents said Thursday's operation had penetrated unusually deeply into the camp.

The US State Department issued a statement on Thursday saying it was "deeply concerned" with the violence in the West Bank and urged both sides to de-escalate the conflict.

The United Nations, Egypt and Qatar have also urged calm, Palestinian officials said.

Palestinian officials said CIA director William Burns, who was visiting Israel and the West Bank on a trip arranged before the latest violence, would meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday. -- Reuters

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