Israel Launches Air Attacks in Gaza After Soldier Is Killed

(Bloomberg) -- Israel’s air force carried out strikes Friday evening against Hamas targets throughout the Gaza Strip after Palestinian snipers shot and killed an Israeli soldier at the border, amid warnings that the conflict was sliding toward war.

Hamas, the militant group that rules the Gaza Strip, said that four of its members were killed in the air strikes. The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that the strikes came after a “severe shooting attack” against troops Friday afternoon, with one soldier later dying of his wounds.

Volatility along the border has intensified since Gaza residents began weekly protests against Israel in late March. Almost 140 Palestinians, some of them unarmed, have been killed in the confrontations, which have grown increasingly violent after a largely peaceful beginning. The soldier shot Friday was the first Israeli killed in the confrontations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a meeting of his top advisers Friday afternoon to evaluate the situation. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned that Hamas was dragging Israel toward war, which he said would be a larger and more painful conflict than the previous round of major fighting between the sides in 2014.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the will of the Gazan protesters “won’t be broken” by the Israeli attacks. As the air strikes began, militants fired three rockets into Israel, with two brought down by the Iron Dome missile-defense system, Israel’s army said. Residents of Israeli communities near the Gaza border, which came under bombardment by more than 100 rockets and mortars from Gaza last weekend, were ordered to stay indoors.

Egyptian and United Nations officials were trying to convince Hamas not to respond further to the air strikes, Ynet reported.

“Everyone in Gaza needs to step back from the brink,” Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, wrote on Twitter. “Those who want to provoke Palestinians and Israelis into another war must not succeed.”

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