2 Palestinians killed by Israeli army

Palestinians check the site of an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on Sunday. — AFP

Gaza City — Two Palestinians were killed by Israeli army fire in Gaza in a flare-up after soldiers were wounded by an explosive device along the Palestinian enclave's border, Gaza medical sources said Sunday.

The fatalities were identified by the Gaza health ministry as Salam Sabah and Abdullah Abu Sheikha, both 17, who were killed during a strike east of Rafah in southern Gaza.

According to Palestinian eye witnesses, the two were killed by shots near the border.

The Israeli army said that its forces had fired "warning shots" at a number of Palestinians approaching the border fence "in a suspicious manner".

Their death comes after Israel launched a series of air strikes targeting 18 targets in Gaza, after the explosive device wounded soldiers and a projectile from Gaza hit in an Israeli border town.

The Saturday explosion and ensuing Israeli air strikes marked one of the most serious escalations in the Hamas-ruled enclave since the Islamist movement and Israel fought a war in 2014.

The army also reported that a "launch was identified from the Gaza Strip at Israeli territory", with a projectile hitting near a home in a southern Israeli community.

An Israeli police spokesman said the projectile had damaged a building but caused no injuries.

Speaking at a security conference in Munich late Saturday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called the Gaza border incident "very serious" and pledged to "respond appropriately".

A Palestinian security source said the Israeli air strikes hit three bases belonging to Hamas in the east of the blockaded Gaza enclave.

Two Palestinians were injured in the raids, Palestinian medical sources said.

Earlier in the day, the army said "two soldiers were severely wounded, one moderately and one slightly" when an improvised explosive device blew up along the border fence with Gaza.

None of the soldiers' lives were in danger, a spokesman said.

Palestinian security sources said the explosion took place east of the city of Khan Yunis.

In response Israeli forces said a tank promptly opened fire at an "observation post" in southern Gaza, causing no injuries on the Palestinian side.

Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said a "rogue group" had claimed responsibility for the bomb blast, likely indicating one of the more radical groups who are present in Gaza.

But he insisted that "from our point of view Hamas is responsible" and said the explosive had been planted during a protest arranged by the group on Friday.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for any fire from the blockaded coastal enclave.

The Israeli army responds automatically to any strikes on its territory, generally targeting Hamas facilities.

Hamas's armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, said it had fired at Israeli jets overhead. Conricus denied the claim.

Hamas and Israel have fought three wars since 2008, and the last conflict in 2014 was waged in part over tunnels from Gaza that were used to launch attacks.

Israeli aircraft hit Hamas targets in the southern Gaza Strip repeatedly in early February, saying Palestinians there had fired a rocket into its territory.

Tensions between the Palestinians and Israel have been high since US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state in December.

Netanyahu will visit the White House next month, a senior US administration official told AFP on Friday.

The March 5 visit comes as Netanyahu faces a scandal that has seen police recommend he be indicted for graft. — AFP