But hey, they just want peace, right?

JERUSALEMPalestinian militants in Gaza fired more than 50 mortar shells into Israel on Saturday, the heaviest barrage in two years, Israeli officials said, raising the prospect of a new Mideast flareup.

Also Saturday, Hamas police beat reporters and news photographers covering a rally in Gaza City, drawing a stiff condemnation from the reporters’ association.

Israel invaded Gaza two years ago to put a stop to daily rocket barrages by Gaza militants, and Saturday’s exchange showed how the conflict could quickly spiral out of control. Gaza’s Hamas rulers are thought to be trying to avoid another Israeli invasion, after the last one caused widespread damage, killed more than 1,400 and left the territory under blockade, but Hamas claimed responsibility for some of the mortar rounds.

A Hamas official was killed and four civilians were wounded when Israel hit back with tank fire and air strikes, said Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Adham Abu Salmia.

Israeli police spokesman Tamir Avtabi said Gaza militants fired 54 mortar shells at Israeli border communities within 15 minutes. He said two Israeli civilians were lightly wounded by shrapnel, and residents were advised to stay at home or in bomb shelters.

Hayim Yellin, head of the Eshkol region where the mortars exploded, said they were the same type as those intercepted last week on a cargo ship loaded with weapons Israel said were sent by Iran to Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

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