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Deadly battles between Israeli, militant combatants shake weeks of calm

By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times –

JERUSALEM — Renewed clashes between Israeli forces and Gaza Strip-based militants left 14 Palestinians dead and four Israelis injured over the weekend, heightening concern about a resumption of unrest along the restive border.

After weeks of relative calm, the latest round began Friday when Israel launched an airstrike that killed a top commander and another fighter of the Popular Resistance Committees, a militant group that Israel blamed for carrying out an attack in August in southern Israel.

Zuhair Mussah Ahmed Kaisi and Mahmud Ahmed Mahmud Hananni were killed Friday afternoon as they drove in their car west of Gaza City. Kaisi had taken over the militant group when Israeli forces killed the group’s leader after the August attack.

Israel officials said they believed Kaisi was preparing to carry out another attack, entering Israel through the Sinai desert.

Militants in Gaza quickly retaliated, firing more than 100 rockets and mortar rounds into southern Israel Friday night and Saturday.

“The Zionist entity will pay a heavy price,” PRC spokesman Abu Mujahed said.

Most of the projectiles were deflected or landed without causing injury or damage. Four Israelis were wounded, one seriously, officials said. Residents of many southern Israeli cities spent the weekend inside or close to bomb shelters.

Israel’s missile-interception system, Iron Dome, destroyed 27 of the incoming rockets, military officials said.

The rocket barrage, one of the heaviest in years, led Israel to launch several airstrikes against squads of militants it believed responsible for the attacks.

Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian militant group that has continued to fire rockets into southern Israel, said 12 of its members were killed by such strikes.

Israeli leaders called upon Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, to rein in the rival groups and bring an end to the rocket fire.

Egyptian and Palestinian officials called upon Israel to exercise restraint.

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