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Israel, Palestinian militants trade fire over Gaza

Smoke billows over the Gaza Strip as the Israeli military says it has renewed air strikes against Islamic Jihad targets in the territory. ©AFP

Gaza City (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Israel and Gaza militants traded cross-border fire Wednesday, renewing deadly violence a day after Israeli strikes killed 15 people in the Palestinian territory.

Smoke billowed from the densely-populated coastal territory after Israel announced it was targeting rocket launching infrastructure held by Islamic Jihad militants.

Sirens warning of incoming fire then blared in the Tel Aviv area, an AFP journalist reported, as well as in communities close to the border, according to the army.

A Gaza health ministry official told AFP one person was killed in the Israeli strikes, while another was seriously wounded.

An AFP journalist in Gaza saw dozens of rockets fired by Palestinian militants, while a senior Israeli security official told journalists "more than 60 rockets" were launched.

Israel's Magen David Adom emergency service said it received no immediate reports of casualties from the rocket fire.

The latest violence comes a day after Israeli strikes on Gaza killed three top Islamic Jihad militants and 12 others, including four children, according to a health ministry toll.

Israel's military said Wednesday's strikes included firing on militants "who were travelling to a rocket launch site in the city of Khan Yunis" in southern Gaza.

Islamic Jihad had vowed Tuesday to retaliate, with Israel warning its residents near the border to stay near bomb shelters.

Ahead of Wednesday's fire, Gaza's usually bustling shops were closed, as resident Monther Abdullah said people "expect the worst".

"Everyone feels anxious and people aren't on the street much.I definitely feel like there's a war coming, and there's tension and fear, whether here or there (in Israel)," the 50-year-old told AFP.

The latest violence comes on the second anniversary of a devastating 11-day war fought between Gaza militants and Israel.

West Bank deaths

The senior Islamic Jihad operatives killed Tuesday were named as Jihad Ghannam, Khalil al-Bahtini and Tareq Ezzedine.

Although based in Gaza, the last was a militant leader in the West Bank.

Earlier Wednesday, Israeli troops raided the West Bank town of Qabatiya, killing two people who the army accused of firing at soldiers.

The Palestinian health ministry identified the two men as Ahmed Jamal Tawfiq Assaf, 19, and Rani Walid Ahmed Qatanat, 24.

The Israeli military said troops detained one person during the raid, when soldiers were shot at from a vehicle.

"The soldiers responded with live fire toward the two assailants and killed them," the army said.

Mourners including armed militants later carried the two men's bodies through the streets in a funeral procession.

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the Six-Day War of 1967 and its forces regularly operate in Palestinian cities.

'Out of control'

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, whose Islamist movement rules Gaza, said Tuesday "assassinating the leadership" in Gaza would bring "greater resistance".

Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are considered terrorist organisations by Israel and the United States.

Washington called Tuesday for "all parties to de-escalate the situation".

While Hamas has fought multiple wars with Israel in recent years, the group stayed on the sidelines of a three-day conflict fought between the country and Islamic Jihad in August.

Following Tuesday's air strikes, Egypt -- a longtime mediator in Gaza -- said such actions "inflame the situation in a way that could get out of control".

The latest violence brings to 126 the number of Palestinians killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so far this year.

Nineteen Israelis, one Ukrainian and one Italian have been killed over the same period, according to an AFP count based on official sources from the two sides.

These figures include combatants as well as civilians, and, on the Israeli side, three members of the country's Arab minority.

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