Palestinian Hamas militants take part in a 2015 anti-Israeli protest in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis
Palestinian Hamas militants take part in a 2015 anti-Israeli protest in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis © Said Khatib - AFP/File
Palestinian Hamas militants take part in a 2015 anti-Israeli protest in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis
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AFP
Last updated: January 1, 1970

Hamas says not seeking war but will fight Israeli incursions

Hamas's leader in Gaza said Friday his Islamist movement did not seek war with Israel but would resist incursions into the Palestinian enclave, following the worst cross-border violence since 2014.

Three days of mortar and tank fire between Israel and Palestinian militants, as well as Israeli air strikes, have raised concerns of a new war in the Hamas-run territory.

Ismail Haniya accused Israeli forces of intruding nearly 200 metres (yards) into Gazan territory.

"We are not calling for a new war, but we will not under any circumstances accept these incursions," he said in a Friday prayer sermon in the Gaza Strip.

Earlier, Israeli aircraft carried out their fourth air raid on the enclave since Wednesday, attacking sites at Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza and near Khan Yunis in the south, witnesses said.

There were no reports of any casualties.

The Israeli army confirmed just one strike, saying aircraft targeted "a Hamas terror infrastructure" in response to cross-border mortar fire.

Since Wednesday, Hamas and other militant groups have fired at least 12 mortar rounds across the frontier, and Israeli tanks have fired repeatedly at what the army said were Hamas targets.

The Palestinian fire targeted Israeli forces searching along the border, and short distances inside Gaza, for infiltration tunnels leading into southern Israel -- among the most feared weapons of Hamas fighters during the 2014 summer war.

On Thursday, Zeina Al-Amour, a 54-year-old Palestinian woman, became the first fatality of the flare-up after Israeli tank fire hit her home, medics said.

The violence has raised concerns for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist rulers of Gaza, that has held since the 50-day war in 2014 left 2,251 Palestinians and 73 Israelis dead.

- Living in fear -

On both sides of the border, residents said they were living in fear of a wider conflict.

"In the night there is the sound of mortars, bombs, planes," said Jehan Berman, a resident of kibbutz Kerem Shalom which is just 40 metres from the border.

"We're tired. We're still recovering from the last war and the next one is already at our door," he told AFP.

Kerem Shalom is close to where the army has uncovered two Hamas tunnels, reportedly stretching into Israeli territory, in recent weeks, with the most recent discovery on Thursday.

Destruction of such tunnels became one of Israel's primary goals during the 2014 war, with more than 30 eliminated, according to the army.

Since the conflict, Hamas has continued to build what it calls "resistance tunnels".

Citing Hamas activities, Israel maintains a tight blockade on Gaza in what human rights groups say is collective punishment against its more than 1.8 million residents.

Ali al-Moghrabi, 40, a tailor from Gaza City's Al-Hanan Zeitun neighbourhood which was bombed on Thursday, said he still had not recovered from the last conflict.

"We do not want war, but the occupier (Israel) never stops," he said.

Hamas has accused Israeli soldiers of incursions into Gazan territory in recent days, saying that this constitutes a violation of the 2014 truce.

The Israeli army admits it has operated inside Palestinian territory but said it was within 100 metres of the border, where it says it has operated since the 2014 war.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet on Friday to discuss the latest developments, with his spokesman saying ministers were updated by security officials on the "activities of the past few days and the exposure of the tunnel".

Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said on Friday that Israeli forces withdrew from positions inside the border east of Khan Yunis.

A senior Israeli official told AFP he was not aware of any understandings with Hamas regarding ending the exchanges of fire.

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