Missiles ... no armistice in the Gaza Strip over the weekend. Photo: ReutersJERUSALEM: Israeli air and artillery strikes killed at least six Palestinians in the Gaza Strip after an anti-tank missile was fired at an Israeli patrol near the border fence, wounding four soldiers.
The Israeli Air Force had responded with several strikes into Gaza, and claimed a direct hit on one rocket-launching squad.
The Gaza border has been the site of several violent incidents in the past week and Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said on Sunday Israel was ''prepared to escalate'' its response.
''The world must realise that Israel won't sit by idly in the face of attempts to attack us. We are prepared to escalate our actions,'' he said at the start of his weekly cabinet meeting.
AdvertisementThe army said at least 36 rockets fired from Gaza had landed in Israel during the flare-up, with a new barrage on Sunday morning injuring four people in the Israeli town of Sderot, several kilometres from the border.
The flare-up is one of the most serious since Israel's devastating 22-day operation in the Gaza Strip over New Year 2009.
The army said three of the wounded soldiers were in hospital on Sunday, one with severe injuries while two others were moderately injured. A fourth was lightly wounded in the attack.
The Israeli military said it had attacked seven different targets overnight, including arms dumps, a weapons-making facility and two rocket-launching sites ''in response to recent events''.
''The army is acting and will act forcefully against the terror organisations in the Gaza Strip. They are receiving strong blows from the army,'' Mr Netanyahu said.
Earlier, Israel's Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, said the army responded ''severely'' to the missile strike and that there may be more responses in the coming days. ''We will not ignore the worsening situation at the fence,'' Mr Barak said.
About 22 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli tank shelling after the attack on the Israeli patrol, the spokesman for the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, Ashraf al-Qedra, said.
The Gaza Health Ministry reported that about the same time, Israeli machine gun fire wounded six Palestinians, two of them children, in a residential neighbourhood east of Khan Younis, further south along the border.
Hamas seized control of Gaza after an attempted coup by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah movement in June 2007, ending a partnership government that had lasted only a few months.
Hamas had been democratically elected to lead the Palestinian Authority in January 2006, but moves to isolate it by the international community led to an agreement to form a unity government with Fatah in March 2007.
Hamas refuses to extend de jure recognition to Israel or to commit to any earlier agreements signed with it and is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and the European Union.
The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the armed wing of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which operates independently of Hamas, claimed responsibility for the attack on the Israeli patrol.
Israel has said it holds Hamas responsible for all attacks from the Gaza Strip.
Bloomberg, The New York Times, Agence France-Presse