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Israel launches retaliatory strikes on Gaza militant targets

Israel has said it has launched retaliatory air strikes on targets in the Gaza Strip. Israel's defense minister said he held the Palestinian militant group Hamas responsible for two rockets fired at the Jewish state.

An statement released by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon on Thursday provided little in the way of detail, saying only that the air force had carried out strikes on three militant targets in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for Palestinian rocket attacks late on Wednesday, which hit open fields near Ashkelon and the town of Netivot.

"In response to this attack, the Israel Defence Forces struck three terror infrastructures in the Gaza Strip," the statement said.

Yaalon also blamed the rocket fire on Palestinian militant group Hamas, which effectively controls the coastal territory.

"We will hold Hamas responsible for everything that happens in the Gaza Strip and we will not tolerate any attempt to harm our citizens," he added.

Indications were, though, that it may well not have been members of Hamas who launched the latest rocket attacks on Israel.

The Reuters news agency cited a statement posted via Twitter by a radical Islamist group calling itself the Omar Brigades as claiming responsibility for the attack.

Hamas is said to have been trying to crack down on Islamist extremist groups in the territory, with AFP reporting that Hamas security forces had shot a Salafist miltant dead in a confrontation in Gaza City earlier in the week.

Concerns about possible escalation

The latest incidents of violence come just two days after

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited the Gaza Strip

, where he called on Israel to lift its blockade of the territory. He warned that a failure to break the current stalemate,

nearly a year after 50 days of conflict in Gaza

, could spur a military escalation. Steinmeier also said that it would only be possible for Israel to lift the blockade if all rocket attacks out of Gaza stopped.

pfd/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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