Israel yesterday carried out airstrikes on the Gaza Strip after militants in the Palestinian territory sent incendiary balloons into the south of the country, in the first flare-up between the two sides since a major conflict last month in which hundreds were killed.
The airstrikes were the first under the new coalition government headed by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who on Sunday took over from former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The strikes came as more than 1,000 ultranationalist demonstrators bearing Israeli national flags poured into Jerusalem’s flashpoint Old City on Tuesday, with scores of police deployed and international monitors urging calm.
Palestinian sources said that the Israeli Air Force targeted at least one site east of Khan Yunis in the south of the Gaza Strip, which is home to about 2 million people.
A photojournalist in Khan Yunis saw the explosions.
The Israeli Defense Force said that in response to the “arson balloons,” its “fighter jets struck military compounds belonging to the Hamas terror organization.”
It added that “facilities and meeting sites for terror operatives” in Khan Yunis were targeted.
There has so far been no indication of casualties.
The Israeli military added that it was “prepared for any scenario, including a resumption of hostilities, in the face of continuing terror activities from the Gaza Strip.”
Local firefighters said that the incendiary balloons caused about 20 fires in southern Israel.
The violence is the first flare-up between Israel and Palestinian militants since a ceasefire took effect last month, ending 11 days of heavy fighting that killed 260 Palestinians, including some fighters, the Gaza authorities said.
In Israel, 13 people were killed, including a soldier, by rockets and missiles fired from Gaza, the police and army said.
In annexed east Jerusalem, more than 1,000 people took to the streets in a delayed and controversial march by nationalist and far-right supporters.
The US and the UN had called for restraint before the march, which Bennett’s new administration had authorized.
With tensions high, Israeli police were deployed in heavy numbers, blocking roads and firing stun grenades and foam-tipped bullets to remove Palestinians from the main route.
Medics said that 33 Palestinians were wounded, while police said that two officers were injured and 17 people arrested.
The demonstration triggered protests in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and prompted rebukes and warnings from Israel’s allies.
The so-called March of the Flags celebrated the anniversary of the city’s “reunification” after Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967 and annexed it, a move not recognized by most of the international community.
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