The strikes were also the first under Israel’s new coalition government led by Naftali Bennett, who Benjamin Netanyahu, and they came as more than 1,000 ultra-nationalist protesters carrying Israeli flags flocked into Jerusalem’s Old City on Tuesday, with dozens of police officers deployed and international observers calling for calm.
According to Palestinian sources, the Israeli Air Force has targeted at least one site east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, which is home to some two million people.
An AFP photojournalist in Khan Yunis saw the explosions.
The Israel Defense Forces said that in response to the “incendiary balloons” its “fighter jets struck military complexes belonging to the terrorist organization Hamas.”
He added that “facilities and meeting places for terrorists” in Khan Yunis have been targeted. There was no immediate indication of casualties.
The Israeli army added that it was “prepared for any scenario, including a resumption of hostilities, in the face of continued terrorist activities from the Gaza Strip.”
Local firefighters said the incendiary balloons – usually consisting of Molotov cocktail-type devices attached to helium balloons – caused around 20 fires in southern Israel. Palestinians have resorted to balloon attacks, which rely on the wind carrying imprecise devices over the border, for years.
The violence is the first outbreak between Israel and Palestinian militants since a ceasefire went into effect in May, ending 11 days of heavy fighting that killed 260 Palestinians, including some fighters, the officials said. Gaza authorities. In Israel, 13 people were killed, including a soldier, by rockets and missiles fired from Gaza, police and military said.
The “flag march” stirs up tension
In annexed East Jerusalem, more than a thousand people took to the streets in a delayed and controversial march by nationalist and far-right activists. The United States and the United Nations had called for restraint before the march, which Bennett’s new administration had allowed to take place.
CBS News correspondent Charlie D’Agata noted that a similar march last month helped spark the 11-day military conflict between Israel and militants in Gaza. The fragile ceasefire that ended this outbreak has been going on for about three weeks, but as D’Agata said, tensions have remained high and the IDF has warned it is ready to resume. fights if necessary.
A Hamas spokesperson said the Palestinians would continue to defend their rights and their sacred sites.
With high tensions, Israeli police were deployed in large numbers, blocking roads and firing stun grenades and foam bullets to pull Palestinians off the main road of the march on Tuesday.
Doctors said 33 Palestinians were injured and police said two officers were injured and 17 people arrested.
The protest sparked protests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and prompted reprimands and warnings from allies of Israel.
The so-called March of Flags celebrates the anniversary of the city’s “reunification” after Israel took East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967 and annexed it, a move unrecognized by most of the international community .
Tuesday’s protest was originally scheduled for early May but twice canceled due to police opposition and threats from Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Palestinian enclave of Gaza.
Crowds, mostly young religious, sang, danced and waved flags at the entrance to the Damascus Gate of the Old City, which has been cleared of its usual Palestinian crowds.
Some chanted “Death to the Arabs” before others silenced them.
First challenge for the new government
The march comes just two days after Netanyahu was ousted after 12 consecutive years in power, toppled by an ideologically divided coalition including, for the first time in Israel’s history, an Arab party.
Bennett is a Jewish nationalist himself, but Netanyahu’s allies have accused the new prime minister of treason for allying with the Arabs and the left.
Some protesters carried signs on Tuesday that read “Bennett the Liar”.
Yair Lapid, the architect of the new government, tweeted that he thought the march should be allowed, but that “it is inconceivable how you can hold an Israeli flag and shout ‘Death to the Arabs’ at the same time.”
Mansour Abbas, whose four-seat Islamic Raam party was vital to the coalition, called Tuesday’s march a “provocation” that should have been called off.