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Israeli strikes in Gaza kill three after soldier wounded

Israeli strikes killed three Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday after a soldier was wounded by gunfire in a fresh flare-up of violence despite a United Nations-brokered ceasefire deal. The Israeli army said the strikes targeting Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas were in retaliation for the shots fired at its soldiers along the border earlier Wednesday. One soldier was moderately wounded and taken to hospital, the army said. The latest bloodshed comes five days after the UN and Egypt brokered a deal to halt a surge in violence that once again raised the spectre of a new round of conflict between Hamas and Israel. The three men were killed in strikes east of Gaza City, the health ministry in Gaza said. In a statement Hamas's military wing hailed them as its fighters from the Shejaiya area in northern Gaza, saying they were killed during strikes on one of their observation points. The Israeli army said it carried out artillery strikes against seven military targets belonging to Hamas. "A short while ago, terrorists fired at (Israeli) soldiers in the southern Gaza Strip," an army statement said. "In response... artillery targeted seven military posts in Gaza belonging to the Hamas terrorist organisation." A spokesman for Hamas said in a statement the group would "not abandon its duty to defend and protect our people and to respond to aggression." - 'False alarm' - Shortly after the Israeli strikes, sirens sounded near the Israeli city of Ashkelon close to Gaza, the Israeli army said. There was no immediate confirmation of any rocket fire from Gaza, which typically sets off such sirens, and the military said it appeared to be a "false alarm". More sirens were reported later in the evening. Israeli media reported that Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman had called an emergency meeting of army generals to discuss the situation. The shooting on the border Wednesday was the second such sniper incident reported by Israel in days. The Israeli military said "a Palestinian sniper in Gaza fired at IDF troops under the cover of 20 children that were sent towards the border fence as decoy". On Friday an Israeli soldier was shot dead on the border, sparking a fierce wave of bombing in Gaza. It was the first time an Israeli soldier had been killed in or around Gaza since a 2014 war between Hamas and the Jewish state and sparked fears of a new round of confrontation. The violence ended late Friday after Egypt and the United Nations helped broker a tense ceasefire. Since then the truce had largely held, though young Palestinians have continued to attach incendiary devices to kites and balloons and try to float them across the border. The kites have caused hundreds of fires inside Israel in recent months, according to Israeli officials. There has however been a reduction in the number of the firebombs since the ceasefire. Israeli politicians have called for tougher measures against those launching the kites and balloons and earlier Wednesday Israeli aircraft fired towards a group of people preparing them, the army said. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008. Tensions have spiked since Palestinians began protesting along the Gaza border in late March, with Israeli forces shooting dead over 150 people since then during clashes and demonstrations. Israel has maintained a crippling blockade of Gaza since 2007 which it says is necessary to isolate Hamas. UN officials and rights groups say it amounts to collective punishment of the strip's two million residents and feeds poverty and radicalisation. Israeli soldiers train in a tank during an exercise at the Tzeelim army base on July 3, 2018, weeks before the army said it carried out artillery strikes against seven military targets belonging to Hamas on July 25 A missile explodes in Gaza City during Israeli bombardment, on July 20, 2018