JERUSALEM — Tensions were running high Tuesday along the volatile border between Israel and the Gaza Strip after an Israeli civilian was killed by a sniper, and the Israeli military responded with an air, tank and infantry assault on the Palestinian enclave, killing at least two people, according to Palestinian reports.
Israeli army spokeswoman Libby Weiss confirmed the military action, saying it focused on six sites she described as either "weapons manufacturing sites" or related to the "terror infrastructure" in Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamic militant group Hamas.
"What we are seeing now is a response to the killing of an Israeli civilian shot earlier today," she said, adding that this was the first time since November 2012, when Israel and Gaza fought an intense eight-day war, that an Israeli civilian had been killed.
The shooting of Salah Shukri Abu Latyef, 22, a contractor for the Defense Ministry sent to make repairs to the border fence, took place about midday, Israeli media reported.
Within hours, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by calling the shooting "very severe."
"We will not let it go unanswered," he said. "Our policy until now has been to act beforehand and to respond in force, and this is how we will act regarding this incident as well."
There was no claim of responsibility for the shooting.
Not long after Netanyahu's comments, Palestinian media reported that strikes by the Israeli air force had killed a 3-year-old girl and that a Palestinian had been shot dead at the border by Israeli military forces.
"What we are witnessing is Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people," said Hamas spokeswoman Isra Almodallal, adding that 14 other civilians were injured. "Israel is hitting civilians and not working in any kind of military way."
Tuesday's tensions between Israel and Gaza marked a new high since an Egypt-brokered cease-fire brought full-blown military action to an end in November 2012. Since then, despite several Israeli military strikes, mostly in response to rockets fired by Palestinian militants, the cease-fire has managed to hold.
The Gaza shooting and the military assault follow an uptick in violence. On Sunday, a bombing on a bus left one person injured, and on Monday, a Palestinian man stabbed an Israeli police officer in the Israeli settlement of Adam.
The violence has clouded the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the rival Palestinian government that rules the West Bank.