Hamas said on Saturday its militants did not intend to target Israeli schoolchildren when they fired a rocket at a bus two days ago, critically wounding a teenager and moderately wounding the bus driver, in an attack that sparked the latest round of border fighting.
"It was not known that the bus targeted on the outskirts of Gaza carried schoolchildren," spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters, adding that the road where the bus was travelling was often used by Israeli military vehicles.
Israel has maintained that the bus, because it was yellow, should have been easy to identify by whoever fired the anti-tank rocket. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused the Islamist Hamas, which rules Gaza, of "crossing a line".
Two years of low-level skirmishing on the border escalated suddenly last month when Hamas, which rules Gaza, fired a barrage of rockets at Israel. Hamas had largely withheld fire at Israel since a Gaza war of late 2008 in which 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.
The IDF retaliated to Thursday's rocket fire with strikes in Gaza that day, resulting in the death of five Palestinians.
On Friday, a barrage of rockets and mortar shells was fired at Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip, and one of the shells exploded in a chicken coop in the Eshkol Regional Council in the Negev.
Rockets were fired near the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, and the Iron Dome missile defense system was successful at intercepting three of them. One rocket fell in an open area near Ashkelon, and no one was hurt.
Later on Friday, two mortars were fired at a Negev town and two additional mortars exploded in open areas. Although no one was hurt, the mortars exploded near homes and chicken coops, causing damage.
On Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces spokesman's office confirmed that IAF jets attacked three top Hamas officials in the Gaza strip, as well as a smuggling tunnel and a truck carrying ammunition, after southern Israel suffered a barrage of rockets overnight.
The early morning air strike brought the two-day death toll from Israel's ongoing retaliation to 17 Gazans - 10 militants, a Hamas policeman and six civilians - amounting to the bloodiest tally since Israel and Hamas wrapped up their three-week-long war more than two years ago.
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