Gaza clashes: Israel attacks tunnels in response to Hamas arrest raids

About 200 Palestinians were arrested in a new wave of operations for the third day running

Hamas and Israel have clashed as the crackdown on the militant group intensified in the latest development in a deadly conflict between Hamas and Israel that has killed three civilians in Israel and more than 170 in Gaza.

Monday’s violent confrontations began after Hamas arrested three youths who it said were responsible for a week of stone-throwing along the Gaza-Israel border, which has become a fortified Israeli frontier in recent weeks as tensions mount ahead of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 war on 10 May.

Hamas said it arrested the three brothers after reviewing footage of a day earlier when Israeli troops shot dead a 15-year-old boy during a skirmish with Palestinians.

But Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner said one of the Israeli soldiers had fired toward the Palestinians – not one of them – and was justified in firing into the air as a warning.

During Monday’s clashes, Hamas police fired into the air and into the ground to disperse Palestinian stone-throwers, but Gaza’s Health Ministry later said at least 14 protesters were wounded by Israeli gunfire.

Hamas said its security forces arrested about 200 Palestinians on Monday in different areas of Gaza, including the town of Khan Younis.

Israeli police said Hamas militants shot at officers on Monday near the Gaza-Israel border fence, but that nobody was injured. But Lerner said the exchange also damaged the fence, further escalating the confrontation.

Monday’s Israeli military strikes targeted Hamas posts and tunnels near the border, the military said. Since the violence began on Friday, at least 172 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 129 militants. Fourteen of the Hamas fighters were targeted by Israeli airstrikes after militants crossed into Israel and opened fire at soldiers.

Israel maintains a blockade of Gaza imposed after Hamas seized control of the territory from forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in 2007. It accuses Hamas of using civilians as cover for attacks and stoking tensions, which it has allowed to rise in past weeks on the border area by moving large quantities of bomb-making materials and military equipment underground.

Hamas has since 2003 used the border area as a launchpad for attacks against Israel and rarely allows residents to venture farther than their homes.

Israel has also significantly escalated its military presence in the area. The military on Monday said it destroyed five terror tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip after digging shafts to reach them.

Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner said the military believes one of the tunnels had been used to carry out attacks.

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