Jerusalem, July 3 IANS | 3 months ago

The Israeli military deployed reinforcements to the southern border with the Gaza Strip Thursday amid a sharp spike in Gaza rocket attacks and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes, the Israeli army said in a statement.


An undisclosed number of armoured units ceased headed south to augment the army's Gaza Division in preparation for a possible large-scale operation to quell rocket fire, Xinhua reported citing the statement.

A small number of reservists assigned to headquarters were called up as well, and Palestinian media reported that navy vessels were taking up positions off the Gaza coast.

Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said forces were mobilising in response to a dramatic surge in the number of rockets fired by Hamas at southern Israel in the past 48 hours, taking up defensive positions in communities neighbouring the coastal enclave.

"Our main message to Hamas is that we seek to de-escalate tensions and restore stability," Lerner told reporters. "We have moved forces to bolster defensive activities and to prepare for the possibility that the other side chooses not to deescalate."

He would not comment on the size of the reinforcements.

The reinforcements were dispatched to the Gaza border after more than 50 rockets and mortars rained down on Israeli communities in the western Negev overnight Wednesday throughout Thursday, some of which struck apartment buildings in Ashkelon and Netivot and damaged vehicles.

Several people were reported to have been treated for minor injuries.

Most of the projectiles exploded in open areas, causing no injuries on the Israeli side.

The Israeli Air Force struck 15 Hamas targets in Gaza overnight Wednesday, including concealed rocket launchers and weapons storage facilities in response to a heavy barrage of rockets fired earlier in the day.

Tensions have been running ever high between Israel and the Palestinians since Israel claimed that three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped in southern West Bank earlier last month. Three days ago, Israel announced that the three were found dead near the southern West Bank city of Hebron.

Israel held the Hamas movement responsible for kidnapping and killing the three Israelis and launched a large-scale offensive in the West Bank. During the offensive, seven Palestinians were killed, three houses were demolished and more than 500 people were detained.

(Posted on 03-07-2014)

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