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Israel launches air raids on Gaza after Hamas rocket attacks

GAZA CITY, Palestinian Territories - The Israeli air force launched dozens of raids on the Gaza Strip overnight after massive rocket fire from the enclave pounded southern Israel, leaving 17 people injured, sources said Tuesday.

An Israeli army spokesman confirmed an air operation code-named Protective Edge had been launched, but did not give details.

Several houses were targeted in the raids on the southern Gaza Strip, notably in Khan Yunes, witnesses said.

Israel has "crossed a red line by attacking houses", warned the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamist Hamas movement which has its stronghold in Gaza.

"If this policy does not stop we will respond by enlarging the radius of our targets to the point where the enemy will be surprised," it said in a statement.

The attacks left 17 people injured, including seven children and two women. Two of the injured are in serious condition, Palestinian medics said.

"About 50 objects were targeted including four houses of activists, rocket launch sites and infrastructure," the Israeli army spokesman said, adding that the operation aimed to hit Hamas and reduce the number of rockets fired at Israel.

Reinforcements were deployed near the Gaza Strip, so a ground attack can be launched if need be, he added.

More reinforcements would "be gradually mobilised in the next days".

"The air raids we have carried out are only one step. The operation is not limited in time."

The spokesman said Hamas had about 100,000 rockets, some of which could hit Tel Aviv.

On Tuesday schools and holiday camps in an area of 40 kilometres (30 miles) around Gaza were closed and residents were asked to avoid any rallies.

Hamas militants in Gaza on Monday fired dozens of rockets at Israel, triggering the response in a new escalation which threatened to spiral into another major confrontation.

It was the worst escalation in and around Gaza since November 2012, with tensions threatening to drag the region into a fresh confrontation as Israel sought to contain five days of violent clashes in Arab localities following the grisly murder of a Palestinian teenager by Jewish extremists.

The Israeli military said Monday more than 40 rockets had been fired at the south within a short period.

"A barrage of over 40 rockets was launched from the Gaza Strip in the past hour. Seven rockets were intercepted over the city of Ashdod and five rockets were intercepted over Netivot," an army statement said, indicating that some 30 rockets had hit inside Israel.

The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades claimed responsibility for the attacks.

"Al-Qassam fired dozens of rockets on Netivot and Ashkelon, Ashdod and Ofakim in response to the Zionist aggression," a statement said.

"Qassam rockets are a natural reaction to the Israeli crimes against our people," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri in a statement.

"We are not afraid of your threats and will not surrender to your conditions, we will respond to your crimes."

'Green light to hit Hamas'

Shortly afterwards, Israeli warplanes hit more than 30 targets near the southern Gaza city of Rafah in an area close to the Israeli border which is riddled with tunnels, Palestinian witnesses and security sources told AFP.

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Palestinians try to salvage what they can of their belongings from the rubble of a house destroyed by an overnight Israeli airstrike in Gaza City Tuesday, July 8.

(AP)

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