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Israeli drone hits Gaza as violent protests rage

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-An Israeli drone hit outposts in the Gaza Strip on Friday as violent protests persisted along the separation fence, while in a separate incident, troops shot dead a Palestinian fighter during a raid in the occupied West Bank.

The military said the drone strikes targeted two military posts belonging to the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, while a tank hit another post from which shots were fired on troops confronting protesters.

The Hamas-affiliated radio station Aqsa said two people had been wounded in the strikes.

Palestinians in Gaza have been holding protests along the separation fence for days, with youths throwing stones and improvised explosive devices at Israeli troops, who have responded with live fire.

According to the Israeli military, protesters have launched incendiary balloons into Israeli territory, starting fires in areas near the separation fence.

The protests have come during a renewed push to restart efforts for Israeli Palestinian peace as part of a potential U.S.-backed accord between Israel and Saudi Arabia being pursued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

On Friday, the health ministry said 31 Palestinians had been wounded during the confrontations, which came days after a protester was shot dead by troops.

In a separate incident in the West Bank, Israeli forces raiding the village of Kafr Dan near the city of Jenin shot dead a fighter belonging to the Islamic Jihad militant group, the seventh person to be killed this week.

RAIDS, ASSAULTS

Violence in the West Bank has raged for over a year, with stepped up Israeli military raids, increased settler assaults on Palestinian villages and a spate of Palestinian attacks targeting Israelis.

In Gaza, Hamas officials have defended the demonstrations, ostensibly held to protest issues including the treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and Jewish visits to the Al Aqsa mosque compound, a site holy to both Muslims and Jews, who know it as the Temple Mount.

“Our people are fighting an open battle against the enemy,” said Hamas spokesman Abdel-Latif al-Qanoua.

Another official, Hazem Qassem, said Israeli bombing of the group’s security outposts would not frighten them and would fail to curb the protests.

In response to the clashes, Israel has shut the Erez crossing point, preventing many of the 18,000 Gazans who have permits to work in the West Bank and Israel from getting to their jobs, cutting off much needed cash to the enclave.

In recent weeks Hamas has itself been targeted by protests by youths angry at the dire economic situation in Gaza, where jobless rates run at almost 50%, according to World Bank figures.

Palestinian and United Nations officials say the 16-year-old Israeli blockade, backed by Egypt, hindered economic revival in the enclave while Hamas leaders say Israeli sanctions are partly aimed at inciting residents against the Islamist group’s rule.

Israel says its blockade is necessary to stop arms reaching Hamas, with which it has fought several wars since 2007.

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