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Gaza raids and rocket fire carry on

Israeli airstrikes have killed two militants and a schoolboy in the Gaza Strip as Palestinian rocket squads continued to bombard Israel, in escalating fighting that has defied international truce efforts.

The cross-border violence, touched off by Israel's killing of a top militant leader on Friday, has been the worst exchange of fire between Israel and the Hamas-ruled territory in months.

The fighting so far has killed 21 Gazans, including 18 militants, seriously wounded two Israelis, and disrupted the lives of a million Israelis living within the range of Gaza rockets.

The Israeli military said it carried out nine air attacks against rocket-launching sites and a weapons storage facility. Islamic Jihad said two of its militants were killed in two separate raids, one while he was riding a motorcycle. A 16-year-old boy wearing a school uniform was killed when a group of five civilians was struck in another attack, Gaza health official Adham Abu Salmia said.

More than 20 Palestinians, including several children, were wounded in a separate pre-dawn strike in Gaza City, Abu Salmia said. Chief Israeli military spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai said the raid had targeted munitions that were stored in a residential building. The military said the air attacks came in response to continued rocket fire.

Schools in the area were closed for a second day to avoid casualties; a day earlier, a rocket struck the courtyard of one of the empty schools.

Militants also fired three mortar shells into Kerem Shalom, the sole cargo crossing between Israel and Gaza and the conduit for 70% of all goods that enter the Palestinian territory. Two vehicles were hit on the Palestinian side of the crossing, but there were no injuries, Israeli officials said. Operations were halted for about half an hour before resuming.

Israel says the newly introduced Iron Dome missile defence system intercepted dozens of the rockets since the clashes erupted, and military officials speculated this prevented more casualties and damage.

But although the violence shows no immediate signs of subsiding, both Hamas and Israel seem eager to avoid the kind of all-out war that erupted three years ago.

In keeping with its practice since that conflict, Hamas has stayed out of the current clashes, for fear of provoking a harsh Israeli retaliation. But it has not stopped other, smaller Gaza factions from attacking Israel, and Israel continues to hold it ultimately responsible for any violence emanating from Gaza.

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