Three Palestinians Said Killed in Fire Exchange Between Israel and Hamas

Three Palestinians were killed in a fire exchange between Israeli troops and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

According to the Israeli military, the army used tank and artillery fire to strike several Hamas targets along the Strip in response to Palestinian snipers shooting at troops in southern Gaza.

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Israelis living near the Gaza border have been ordered to remain close to shelters.

Hamas security forces have started evacuating army commands and posts over fears that the Israeli army might attack them in the coming hours.

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Two of the Palestinians killed died in an Israeli attack on a Hamas post east of Khan Yunis. The third man was killed by Israeli fire close to Rafah.

At the same time, thousands of Palestinians marched toward the Israeli border with Gaza as part of weekly demonstrations dubbed "the march of return."

So far, 140 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire during such protests, which began last March and reached their height when the U.S. Embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. 

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Last weekend, two Palestinians were killed at a demonstration near the border. One of them was a 15-year-old boy; 220 people were injured. An Israeli officer was injured moderately after a stun grenade was hurled at him by Palestinian demonstrators in the northern Gaza Strip. In response to the attack on the officer, the army opened fire on the protesters.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned earlier Friday that Hamas is forcing Israel into a situation that may demand a "broad, painful military operation" that will be larger than the last one in 2014.

"We are trying to be measured and responsible, but the leaders of Hamas are leading us into a situation in which there is no choice, a situation in which we will have to embark on a broad and painful military operation, not only for appearances," Lieberman said on a visit to the southern city of Sderot.

He added that such an operation would be "more painful than Operation Protective Edge" for Hamas. "Unfortunately, residents of Gaza will be among those who will have to pay the price," he said.

The defense minister suggested the possibility of easing economic restrictions on Gaza in exchange for "a total cessation of terror and provocations at the [border] fence." Hamas rejected Friday morning a similar idea raised in an op-ed by aides to U.S. President Donald Trump.