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Israel hits Hamas targets in Gaza following rocket fire

media The Palestinian rocket fire and retaliatory Israeli air strikes come after months of Palestinian protests along the Gaza border that have drawn a deadly response from the Israeli army and raised fears of a a new war between Israel and Hamas AFP

Israel launched raids against targets in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday in response to rocket fire from the Palestinian territory that caused damage in a southern city, the Israeli army said.

The attacks come at a time of renewed tensions between Israel and Palestinian armed groups and heightened fears of a new conflict in the region.

"Israeli jets started to attack terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip," the Israeli army said.

Six sites were hit in the Gaza Strip, its Islamist rulers Hamas said in a statement. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

A few hours earlier, a rocket hit the city of Beersheba -- one of the first fired in recent weeks from the Palestinian territory .

"At 4 am (0100 GMT), Israelis in the city of Beersheba were running to bomb shelters after a rocket was launched from the Gaza Strip at Israel," the Israeli army tweeted.

"We will defend Israeli civilians," it added, suggesting there would be a military response.

Israeli police said: "A rocket struck the city of Beersheva a few moments ago causing damage." There were no reports of casualties.

The rocket struck the garden of a house occupied by a family with three children who were being treated for shock, Israeli media reported.

The army reported another rocket was fired towards the sea.

It was unclear who fired the rockets but the Israeli army holds Hamas accountable for all rocket fire from the territory and commonly retaliates against its positions, regardless of who launched the weapons.

It comes after months of Palestinian protests along the Gaza border that have drawn a deadly response from Israeli troops and raised fears of a new war between Israle and Hamas, who have fought three since 2008.

At least 205 Palestinians have been killed since the protests began on March 30. One Israeli soldiers has been killed by Palestinian sniper fire over the same period.

The protesters have been demanding the right of return to land now inside Israel, from which their families were expelled or fled during the 1948 war that accompanied the creation of the Jewish state.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tuesday that the protests could not be allowed to go on.

"We are not prepared to accept the level of violence we see week after week," he told troops and commanders at an army base near the Gaza border.

He also suspended deliveries of fuel that had been trucked daily into Gaza over the previous week under a deal brokered by the United Nations.

It had seen thousands of litres (gallons) of fuel paid for by gas-rich Gulf state Qatar delivered to boost power generation in the impoverished territory.

The UN says Israel's 11-year blockade has resulted in a "catastrophic" humanitarian situation.

Gaza's two million residents endure routine power cuts and a chronic shortage of safe drinking water, and more than two-thirds are dependent on international aid.

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