An Israeli soldier was killed Friday when he was hit by Hamas gunfire along the Gaza border, according to the Israeli army. He was evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in the southern city of Be'er Sheva after he came under sniper fire and was declared dead at the hospital.
The soldier, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, was on the border in active duty as weekly demonstrations dubbed "March of Return" were taking place.
The soldier is the first to be killed on the Gaza front in active duty since a 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, an Israeli army spokesman said. The soldier's family has been informed of his death, but his identity and details on the circumstances of the incident are yet to be disclosed by the army.
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The Israeli army said it carried out extensive attacks on Hamas targets after the soldier was killed. Four Palestinians were also killed in the exchange. Hamas' armed wing, Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, confirmed that three of them were members of the organization.
Three rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza during the escalation; two of the rockets were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome, the anti-rocket defense system. The third rocket fell in an open area near Kibbutz Nahal Oz. No injuries or damage were reported.
The Israeli army said its tanks had hit 68 Hamas targets and had "eliminated about 60 buildings and infrastructures and revoked significant military and command and control capabilities."
Following the escalation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held two security meetings with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the military chief Gadi Eisenkot, Shin Bet director Nadav Argaman and other senior defense officials. "If Hamas continues launching rockets, the result will be a lot worse than they think," Lieberman told the United Nations' Middle East ambassador, Nickolay Mladenov.
Lieberman warned earlier Friday that Hamas is forcing Israel into a situation that may demand a "broad, painful military operation" that will be larger than the last one in 2014.
"We are trying to be measured and responsible, but the leaders of Hamas are leading us into a situation in which there is no choice, a situation in which we will have to embark on a broad and painful military operation, not only for appearances," Lieberman said on a visit to the southern city of Sderot.
He added that such an operation would be "more painful than Operation Protective Edge" for Hamas. "Unfortunately, residents of Gaza will be among those who will have to pay the price," he said.
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