Violence Flares After Israeli Operation In Gaza Turns Deadly

An Israeli soldier stands next to an armoured vehicle in kibbutz Nahal Oz

Israeli hit by rocket fire as air strikes target Gaza Strip after botched raid

Palestinian militants have bombarded southern Israel with dozens of rockets while Israeli warplanes launched retaliatory air strikes on the Gaza Strip, in what appears to be the most intense exchange of fire since the 2014 war.

Iron Dome anti-missile batteries intercepted most of the rockets, while others struck homes in several communities causing property damage and injuries and setting fires. "These rocket & mortar attacks on Israeli towns must be condemned by all", USA envoy Jason Greenblatt tweeted.

Just hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted - despite theabundance of evidence to the contrary - that he wants to "avoid" military conflict with the Palestinians, a unit of Israeli soldiers flagrantly violated a ceasefire agreement Sunday night by invading the occupied Gaza Strip andkilling at least seven Palestiniansbefore fleeing under the cover of airstrikes.

On Monday, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was called back from Paris in the wake of the incident, Israeli officials refused to reveal specific details about the operation, but said they had not meant to kill or arrest anyone.

A funeral was held for the seven Palestinian militants on Monday attended by thousands, including masked Al-Qassam members carrying rifles, some firing into the air.

Six Hamas fighters, including a commander of forces in the Khan Younis area, and a member of the Popular Resistance Committees, another armed faction, were killed.

Mourners carry the body of Hamas militant commander Nour el-Deen Baraka, who was killed during an Israeli raid late Sunday.

Hamas also cancelled a weekly beach protest in northwestern Gaza along the border with Israel.

Qassam members discovered the vehicle and chased it, prompting Israeli airstrikes that killed several people, the group said.

Recent weeks have seen Israel allow Qatar to provide the Gaza Strip with millions of dollars in aid for salaries as well as fuel to help ease an electricity crisis.

The military provided few details about the reason for Sunday's raid.

A former Israeli general told the BBC that he believes the incident was likely an intelligence-gathering operation that went wrong.

"What was revealed tonight is the very tip of operations that are carried out regularly and the objective of which is to enable Israel's superiority as it exists today", the military said about Sunday's operation.

Al-Qassam agents stopped it and wanted to search it, realised it was an Israeli operation and confronted them, it said in a statement. "The force waged a heroic and very complex battle and was able to exfiltrate in its entirety".

In a tweet after his arrival back home, Netanyahu praised the slain officer, whose identity was kept confidential for security reasons, and said "our forces acted courageously". Since late March, Hamas has been leading mass marches, with turnout driven by growing despair in Gaza, to try to break the border blockade.

The two enemies have fought three wars in the past decade.

Israeli gunfire has killed more than 220 Palestinians since the start of the demonstrations, which have included breaches of Israel's border fence.

"IDF troops that operated last night in the Gaza Strip became trapped in a highly complex situation", said IDF Spokesperson Ronen Manelis.

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