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Palestinian Mortar Barrage Prompts Israeli Retaliation

A Palestinian Hamas member inspects the damage after an Israeli strike in east of Gaza strip, March 19, 2011

There has been an upsurge of violence on the Israeli border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Palestinian militants in Gaza fired more than 50 mortar shells into Israel, the biggest barrage since the Gaza War two years ago. Israeli police say the shells fell during a period of 15 minutes, terrorizing residents of farming communities in southern Israel.

Drorit Darom had a close call. She told Israel Television that she left her house to check on an elderly neighbor after a mortar shell landed nearby, and while she was gone her own house was hit.

Israel responded by pounding Gaza with tank fire and air strikes.

The Islamic militant group Hamas that rules Gaza claimed responsibility for the mortar attack, saying it was retaliation for recent Israeli air strikes that killed several Palestinian fighters.

Appearing on Hamas Television, Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the group's military wing, said the mortar fire was aimed at deterring further Israeli attacks.

It was a rare claim of responsibility for Hamas, which has sought to avoid provoking another Israeli invasion of Gaza like the one two years ago.

Israel described the mortar barrage as "extremely grave" and said it will file a complaint with the United Nations.

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