Gaza, pictured on July 3, 2014. (UPI/Ismael Mohamad) | License Photo
JERUSALEM, July 3 (UPI) -- Tensions continued to rise between Israelis and Palestinians on Thursday as Israeli troops amassed near the Gaza Strip.
The military maneuvering followed an exchange of rocket launches. Palestinian militants fired 30 rockets at southern Israel in a 24-hour period, and the Israeli military launched 15 airstrikes at Hamas targets overnight. Palestinian health officials reported the airstrikes wounded 10 people, including a pregnant woman.
Israel claims its troop movement is a defensive act and not intended to further escalate tit-for-tat violent exchanges.
"We are moving, and we have moved, forces to serve defensive activities and forward preparations ... The main issue is how Hamas is reading the situation ... We don't want to take it further, but we will be prepared for the development," Israeli Defense Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner told reporters on a conference call.
Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal, speaking from Qatar, was quoted in an interview published on Wednesday, asserting that Hamas is also hoping to defuse the tense situation. That message, however, is reportedly difficult to convey to other militants.
A Gaza-based Hamas leader told the New York Times "In general, there was an agreement to calm the situation ... We are communicating with the factions to stop them from firing rockets, but the justification is always, 'Look at what the Israelis are doing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.'"
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued statements Wednesday, calling on Israel and Palestine to cease retributive violence. Their plea followed an outbreak of clashes after the abduction and murder of a 17-year-old Palestinian teenager less than a day after three murdered Israeli teens were laid to rest.