Israeli airstrikes retaliate after mortar fire from Gaza

Gaza militants fired more than 25 mortar shells toward communities in southern Israel Tuesday, the Israeli military said, in what appeared to be the largest single barrage fired since the 2014 Israel-Hamas war.

Boats set sail from Gaza in symbolic effort to break blockade

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on Tuesday. (Suhaib Salem/Reuters)

Israeli jets bombed Gaza hours after militants from the territory on Tuesday fired more than 25 mortar shells toward communities in southern Israel in what appeared to be the largest single barrage since the 2014 Israel-Hamas war.

The Israeli military said no one was hurt and that most of the mortar shells were intercepted by the Iron Dome defence system, though one of the shells landed near a kindergarten shortly before it opened.

The high volume of projectiles came as tensions have been running high along the Israel-Gaza border and a fierce Israeli response was expected.

"Israel will exact a heavy price from those who seek to harm it and we see Hamas as responsible for preventing such attacks," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said following the barrage.

Shortly after that warning, Israeli jets began dropping bombs at what security officials in Gaza called Islamic Jihad militant training site. Smoke was seen rising near the town of Deir al-Balah in the coastal strip and the Israeli military said the explosions there were related to its activity. No injuries were reported.

Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official, said the barrage proved that the "resistance is capable of hurting the occupation and it proved this today by responding to its crimes."

Radwan spoke as a two fishing boats carrying students and medical patients set sail out of Gaza City's port, aiming to break 11 years of naval blockade that Egypt and Israel imposed after the militants violently took control of the coastal territory.

Hamas acknowledged it was mostly a symbolic act, as Israel bars any boats from Gaza reaching farther out than a six-nautical-mile radius into the Mediterranean Sea.

Israeli troops later boarded one of the Gaza boats, while the second returned to Gaza on its own. The Israeli military said troops boarded the vessel without incident and detained 17 people.

People stand in a kindergarten yard damaged by mortar shells fired from the Gaza Strip that landed near it, in a Kibbutz on the Israeli side of the Israeli-Gaza border, on Tuesday. (Amir Cohen/Reuters)

The Israeli military also said three soldiers were wounded by the fire from the Gaza Strip. The army said two soldiers were lightly wounded and the third was moderately wounded in Tuesday's incidents, with no further details provided on the exact cause or extent of the injuries.

The United States called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, expected on Wednesday, in light of the rocket fire from Gaza. 

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said the council "should be outraged and respond" to the attacks. 

"The Palestinian leadership needs to be held accountable for what they're allowing to happen in Gaza," she said. 

A boat carrying medical patients and students sails toward Europe aiming to break Israel's blockade on Gaza in what officials there admitted was a symbolic act. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

'Really scary morning'

In southern Israel, angry residents complained about how vulnerable they felt after 15 years of rocket fire threats from neighbouring Gaza, which will likely put pressure on the government to retaliate harshly.

Adva Klein, a resident of Kibbutz Kfar Aza, said she only got about two hours of sleep because of the frequent incoming fire and the sirens warning of them. Other residents reported machine gun fire from Gaza as well.

"It's been a really scary morning," said Adele Raemer, a resident of Kibbutz Nirim.

Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he was convening the top military brass at his Tel Aviv headquarters to discuss the situation.

The border area has been tense in recent weeks as the Palestinians have held mass protests aimed at lifting a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after Hamas seized power in 2007.

Israeli fire has killed more than 110 Palestinians, most of them during the Hamas-led protests, which climaxed on May 14.

On Sunday, Israeli shelling killed three Palestinian militants from the smaller Islamic Jihad group after the troops found a bomb planted along the border. The Islamic Jihad vowed retaliation.

On Monday, a tank fired at a Hamas position in the Gaza Strip, killing one man and wounding another, after Israeli troops came under fire on the frontier while apprehending two armed Palestinians.

Hamas has vowed to continue the border rallies. Israel says it is defending its border as well as its communities nearby. It accuses Hamas of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of protests.