At least nine Palestinians, including four civilians, were killed on Tuesday in separate IDF attacks against targets in the Gaza Strip, marking the bloodiest day in a week of escalating violence in the South.

On Tuesday evening, the IDF spotted a terror cell in the midst of preparing to launch a long-range rocket into Israel.

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The IDF attacked the cell, killing four known terrorists who military sources said were behind the Grad-model Katyusha attack on Beersheba last month.

In the afternoon, IDF troops shot mortars into Gaza and accidentally hit innocent civilians in the northern town of Sajaya. The troops fired the mortars after they came under mortar fire from a terror cell that was spotted in a field near the town.

Palestinians reported that four people – aged 58, 12, 16 and 17 – were killed in the strike.

The IDF said that the Southern Command was investigating the incident, but stressed that Hamas was responsible for choosing to operate from within populated areas.

Later Tuesday night, an official IDF spokesperson announcement said that IDF aircraft fired on a terrorist in the northern Gaza Strip. The statement said the terrorist was planning to send rockets in the direction of Ashdod.

A short time earlier, four Kassam rockets exploded in open fields in the Sha’ar Hanegev region. No injuries or damages were reported.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu issued a statement Tuesday night “expressing regret” at the loss of innocent life in Gaza, saying it was accidental.

According to the statement, Netanyahu stressed that the IDF mortar-firing had been a reaction to Hamas shelling of Israeli civilians.

“It is unfortunate that Hamas continues to rain down dozens of rockets on Israeli civilians intentionally, while using [their own] civilians as human shields. Israel has no intention of bringing about a deterioration of the situation, but at the same time, the IDF will continue to act decisively to protect Israeli citizens,” the statement read.

Hamas said in a statement that it would respond strongly to Israel’s actions.

“The escalation will not pass unanswered. Escalation will be met with escalation, and calm will be met with calm,” it said.

On Tuesday morning, the IDF thwarted an attack after a tank crew spotted a group of terrorists preparing to fire an anti-tank missile. The tank opened fire and hit the group.

According to the Palestinians, 19 people were wounded, including four terrorists, in an air strike the IAF carried out on Monday night.

Hamas and several other Palestinian groups threatened on Tuesday to avenge the deaths of the Palestinians killed by IDF gunfire in the Gaza Strip, while the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank strongly condemned Israel.

Hamas’s renewed threat came only a day after the movement said it was interested in preserving the unofficial cease-fire with Israel.

Following Tuesday’s incident, however, Hamas leaders and militiamen said Israel’s “war crime” would not go unpunished.

Abu Obaida, spokesman for Izzadin Kassam, Hamas’s armed wing, said that his group was closely following the situation and studying its response to the killings.

“The resistance can’t continue to practice self-restraint indefinitely,” he said. “In the past, the resistance groups chose to abide by a period of calm for the sake of our people.”

Abu Obaida said Israel would pay a heavy price for its “continued aggression” against the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas government said Israel alone bore responsibility for the recent escalation. It claimed that the Israeli government was exploiting the preoccupation of the international community and media with the current uprisings in the Arab world to launch military strikes in the Gaza Strip.

Taher a-Nunu, a spokesman for the Hamas government, also lashed out at the British and German governments for allegedly justifying the latest Israeli military strikes in Gaza.

Another Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, condemned Tuesday’s killings as a “war crime” and said Israel would have to bear the repercussions of its actions.

Hamas representative Fawzi Barhoum called for a third intifada “to teach the [Israeli] enemy a lesson for its crimes.”

He added that the German foreign minister was complicit in the killing of Palestinian children because he had allegedly justified Israel’s retaliatory attacks.

Several other armed groups in the Gaza Strip, including Islamic Jihad, also threatened to resume attacks on Israel in response to the killings.

The PA, for its part, accused Israel of having escalated tensions ever since PA President Mahmoud Abbas launched an initiative to visit the Gaza Strip to seek reconciliation with Hamas.

Nimer Hammad, political adviser to Abbas, said Israel was carrying out the “ugliest form of terror” against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Violence in Gaza escalated on Saturday, after Hamas fired close to 50 mortar shells into Israel, prompting IAF bombings and daily violent clashes along the border.

France’s Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, issued a statement expressing concern about the escalation in violence in Gaza, and urged both sides to show restraint.

IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz said that Israel was not interested in an escalation in violence with Hamas, but that the IDF would continue taking action to defend Israeli citizens.

“The State of Israel is not interested in an escalation, but at the same time we do not plan on surrendering our right to act in self-defense,” Gantz said. “If we will need to use offensive measures, we have the right to do so and will know how to do so smartly and for as long as it will take.”

IDF assessments are that the violence in the Gaza Strip will begin to decrease in the coming days. The recent escalation is attributed to a combination of events, including last Wednesday’s strike against a manned Hamas post in which two operatives were killed, as well as the alleged abduction of Palestinian engineer Dirar Abu Sisi from Ukraine. He is currently being held in Israel.

Reuters contributed to the report.



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