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Islamic Jihad operates with a measure of independence from Hamas, the Islamist group that has controlled Gaza since 2007 and fought three wars against Israel.

The statement said that the operation was in response to a brief incursion across the Gaza border earlier in the day by Palestinian protesters who immediately fled back into Palestinian territory.

According to Erez Cohen, the head of the Defence Ministry's Engineering and Construction Department, the work is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The first level above water will be made of armored stone, which can withstand the battering of sea waves for years, with barbed wire fencing on top.

"This is further thwarting Hamas, which will lose another strategic capability [after] investing huge sums in its development". "We will continue to protect the citizens of Israel with might and sophistication". The length and depth of the barrier have not been revealed.

Israel already maintains a naval blockade on the Gaza Strip.

The Defense Ministry has started construction on an underwater barrier, which will stretch from the southern Israeli community of Zikim out into the Mediterranean to stave off Hamas infiltration by sea.

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He called on the United Nations and other worldwide bodies to protect the boat leaving from the enclave run by Palestinian resistance movement Hamas.

Israel is meanwhile continuing the revamp of its border fence with the besieged enclave - reinforcements include a new massive underground barrier meant to neutralise the threat of tunnels.

Since March thousands of Palestinians have been demonstrating along the Gaza-Israel security fence.

At least 118 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the Gaza Strip since mass protests and clashes broke out on March 30, according to figures from the Gazan health ministry.

There have been no Israeli casualties along the Gaza frontier, but Israel has reported extensive damage to farmland on its side of the border from firebomb-bearing kites flown over from Gaza.