IDF strikes terror targets in Gaza after arson, in first raids since ceasefire

The Israel Defense Forces carried out a series of airstrikes across the Gaza Strip early Wednesday morning in response to more than two dozen fires in southern Israel caused by incendiary devices launched from the coastal enclave.

It was the first exchange between terrorist groups in Gaza and the IDF since last month’s 11-day conflict in the Strip.

The IDF said it was prepared for the possibility of further fighting between Israel and the enclave.

Images released by Palestinian media in Gaza showed explosions lighting up the skies in the north and south of the Strip overnight from Tuesday to Wednesday, with reporters claiming sites belonging to Hamas’s military wing, the Al Brigades. -Qassam, were among the targets.

No Gazans were injured in the strikes, the Hamas-affiliated Palestinian press center initially reported.

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The IDF later issued a statement saying its fighter jets struck military targets that were used for Hamas operations in Khan Younis and Gaza City.

“Terrorist activities took place in the compound under attack,” the IDF said, adding that the strikes were in response to the launching of incendiary devices in southern Israel earlier in the day.

“The Israeli army is prepared for all scenarios, including the resumption of hostilities, facing the continuation of terrorist acts from the Gaza Strip,” the army added.

Firefighters try to put out a blaze in southern Israel that was started by an incendiary balloon device launched by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on June 15, 2021. (Flash90)

The airstrikes were the first since an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire ended an 11-day spate of violence between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in Gaza. They came at the end of a day of heightened tensions, during which Israeli authorities allowed thousands of right-wing nationalists to gather in Jerusalem’s Old City in an annual flag parade, despite threats. of Hamas that the controversial protest would escalate. .

Amid warnings from terror groups in Gaza, the IDF pledged to maintain its deterrence and respond to all violations of Israeli sovereignty, including arson, which has caused more than 20 fires in communities bordering it. enclave Tuesday. Some Palestinians also revolted along the border, one of whom was reportedly shot in the leg, slightly injured.

It was also the first strikes in Gaza since Naftali Bennett took power on Sunday as prime minister. Yamina’s president has long insisted that the IDF’s response to arson should be the same as to rocket fire.

Earlier on Tuesday, the terrorist group Hamas claimed victory after the flag march, claiming to have established a “new formula of deterrence” against Israel.

“The courageous positions and decisions of the Palestinian resistance forced the Israeli occupation to change the route of the road away from the Al-Aqsa Mosque, to change the civilian air routes and to strengthen the deployment of the Iron Dome The terrorist group said in a statement. declaration.

The march, in which several thousand nationalist Jews participated, was postponed until Jerusalem Day on March 10 when it was halted due to Hamas rocket fire that targeted the city, triggering 11 days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip. .

As the march approached, Israel took a number of measures to strengthen security, including asking 2,000 police officers to secure the parade in Jerusalem, sending reinforcements to the West Bank and deploying Iron missile defense batteries. Dome, especially near the capital. . Flight trackers showed that air traffic to and from Ben-Gurion Airport was redirected north further from Gaza to avoid any potential rocket fire.

“The operational plan proved successful and brought the incident to an end,” Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said, quoted by public broadcaster Kan after meeting with senior police officers after the march. .

Far-right MP Itamar Ben Gvir dances with an Israeli flag at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City on June 15, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

Police said 17 people were arrested in clashes between cops and Palestinians as the march began near the Old City for disturbing the peace, throwing stones and assaulting police officers.

According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, 33 Palestinians were injured in the clashes, six of whom were hospitalized with wounds caused by rubber or sponge bullets and another Palestinian who, according to the medical service, was wounded by live ammunition. , but that the police warned rescuers. to evacuate for treatment. Police said two policemen were injured and taken for treatment.

According to Channel 12 information, Israel warned Hamas via Egypt that there would be a firm and immediate response to any rocket fire from Gaza. The network cited a diplomatic source promising that Israel would respond to incendiary balloon attacks, but would choose the timing.

The network asked the diplomatic source what Bennett would do now as prime minister in light of hawkish comments he has already made.

Supporters of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group prepare airborne incendiary devices to be launched at Israel, east of Gaza City, on June 15, 2021 (Atia Mohammed / Flash90)

“On the one hand, there are doubts. We want to show that there really is a new equation here as we promised after Operation Guardian of the Walls, ”the source said. “On the other hand, we don’t want to create the link that Hamas wants us to create between Gaza and Jerusalem. There will be an answer and it will come in various forms.

The network also noted Hamas’s frustration over blocking Qatar’s latest monthly aid facility. The millions of dollars payment has not been transferred since the Gaza war last month, with Israel refusing to allow it unless the terror group releases two civilians and two bodies of IDF soldiers it is holding captive . Egypt has also opposed the restart of Qatari payments, insisting that a new mechanism be used to transfer them to Gaza so that they do not directly reach Hamas.

Public broadcaster Kan reported that Israel reassured both the PA and Jordan that they were not seeking escalation. In addition, the outlet said the United States has also expressed concerns about the situation.

Earlier, Channel 13 had quoted anonymous Palestinian sources as saying that Egypt had asked Hamas not to provoke an escalation, warning that such a move would “embarrass” Cairo and that Bennett’s government – which approved the parade Monday – would react with force.

According to the sources, Hamas replied that “all options are on the table”, but the escalation could be avoided “if the event does not get out of hand”.

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