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Violence erupts in Gaza after a deadly Israeli raid on the West Bank

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On Thursday, the Israeli army launched several air raids on the Gaza Strip in response to reported rocket fire from the besieged Palestinian territories.

The violence comes a day after the heaviest Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank in nearly 20 years.

Eleven Palestinians, including a 16-year-old boy, were killed and more than 80 wounded by gunfire Wednesday when Israeli forces raided the West Bank city of Nablus, prompting international calls for calm.

Senior Palestinian official Hussein al-Sheikh described the raid as a “massacre” and called for “international protection for our people”.

Before dawn on Thursday, Palestinian armed groups reportedly responded by firing six rockets from Gaza into Israel.

The Israeli army said that it managed to intercept five of them, while the sixth hit an unpopulated area.

The armed Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement claimed responsibility for the rocket fire after calling on the “resistance” to respond to the “major crime” in Nablus.

Two hours later, the Israeli military launched airstrikes on multiple targets in Gaza, sending plumes of black smoke into the sky.

The army said in a statement that the missiles targeted a “weapons factory” and an “army camp” run by the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for calm, warning that tensions in the West Bank had reached their most dangerous level in years.

“Our immediate priority must be to prevent further escalation, reduce tensions and restore calm,” Annan said.

“The situation in the occupied Palestinian territories has been at its peak for years,” he added, referring to “sky-high” tensions and the stalled peace process.

The IDF said Wednesday’s raid targeted a “bunker” used by alleged militants accused of shooting in the West Bank.

It added that one of the wanted persons was “neutralised” along with two others at the scene who opened fire on the forces.

Army spokesman Richard Hecht told reporters that the suspects and Israeli forces “exchanged fire… There were also rockets fired at the house” by the army.

The army said that stones, explosive devices and Molotov cocktails were thrown at the forces, adding that despite this, there were no injuries.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health said that the dead “as a result of the occupation’s aggression on Nablus” ranged between 16 and 72 years old.

Hours after the raid, the ministry announced the death of a 66-year-old man from tear gas inhalation.

Wednesday’s death toll was the highest since the end of the second Palestinian uprising in 2005, surpassing the death toll in an Israeli raid last month in Jenin, another focus city in the West Bank.

Explosions and gunfire

Palestinian health officials said 82 people were taken to hospital with gunshot wounds.

Mustafa Shaheen, a resident of Nablus, said that “the soldiers… surrounded the entire area” around 9:30 am (7:30 am GMT).

“We kept hearing explosions and gunshots,” he told AFP.

His colleague told AFP that among the wounded was Palestine TV journalist Muhammad al-Khatib, who was shot in the hand.

The Islamic Jihad militant group said one of its leaders was killed “in a heroic battle”.

The Lions’ Den, a local armed group based in Nablus, said that six of the dead were members of various Palestinian factions.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant praised the army’s “bravery”, in a tweet saying that Israel’s “long arm” would reach “any terrorist”.

AFP correspondents reported that a large crowd of mourners, including armed men, gathered at noon in Nablus and the nearby Balata refugee camp for the funerals of 10 of the dead.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society said that its medics treated 250 cases of tear gas inhalation and dozens of gunshot wounds.

Escalating violence

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington was “deeply concerned about the levels of violence”, while EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the EU was “deeply concerned about the escalation of violence in the West Bank”.

Borrell called on “all parties” to work to “restore calm … and avoid further loss of life.”

France, which condemned the violence committed against civilians, affirmed Israel’s commitment to respecting international humanitarian law and the use of proportionate force.

Neighboring Jordan said it would “work intensively with all parties to achieve” calm.

Since the beginning of this year, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has claimed the lives of 60 Palestinian adults and children, including armed attackers and civilians.

Nine Israeli civilians, including three children, a police officer and a Ukrainian civilian, were killed during the same period, according to an AFP tally based on official sources on both sides.

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and separately with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, calling on both sides to “restore calm.”

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the Six Day War in 1967.

Last year was the deadliest year for the region since the United Nations began tracking casualties in 2005.

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