Amid the strikes, members of the Gaza-based terror group fired machine guns at southern Israel, which did not raise an alert, according to the military. Palestinian media reported that the shots were aimed at Israeli planes. There were no reports of injuries or damage from the gunfire.
The military said in a statement that the site targeted by the airstrike was used by the terrorist organization to manufacture weapons, and released an infographic showing its location.
“The strikes were carried out in response to arson with balloons fired into Israeli territory. The IDF will continue to react strongly against terrorist attempts in the Gaza Strip, ”the army said.
The Hamas-led health ministry said there were no casualties in the Israeli airstrikes.
Incendiary balloons launched from Gaza on Saturday sparked a fire near a town along the southern border, the second day of such attacks since the military last struck targets in Gaza, in response to previous attacks of incendiary balloons against southern Israel.
Between Thursday evening and early Friday morning, Israeli warplanes bombed a Hamas arms factory in Gaza, in response to at least four fires caused by incendiary balloons on Thursday.
An image released by the IDF shows a Hamas site targeted by airstrikes on July 3, 2021 after incendiary balloons set off fires in southern Israel. (IDF Spokesman’s Office)
Thursday’s fires broke more than two weeks of calm since the last wave of arson attacks.
In June, incendiary balloons launched by Hamas operatives sparked some 20 fires in Israeli communities near Gaza. Israel Defense Forces planes struck a wide range of Hamas military targets across the Gaza Strip, responding to the attacks in less than a day.
The response from the new government, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, indicated a change in policy from the previous one, which has not always responded to arson with balloons with airstrikes.
Last month’s incendiary balloons and counterattacks were the first since Israel’s 11-day war against terror groups in Gaza in May. They took place amid Israel’s decision to allow far-right activists to conduct a flag march through Jerusalem’s Old City, which Palestinian groups have called a provocation.
Over the past three years, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, mainly linked to Hamas and other terrorist groups, have launched thousands of airborne incendiaries and explosives into southern Israel, causing widespread fires and significant damage to agricultural fields, nature reserves and private property.
Hamas used the launching of incendiary devices to pressure Israel to move forward with reconstruction efforts in the Strip.
Bennett, who replaced former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on June 13, has long called for a harsher response to incendiary balloons, claiming in previous years that they should be treated the same as rockets, and that attacks against southern Israel should receive the same response as attacks targeting central Israel.
In 2018, for example, Bennett – then education minister – called on the IDF to try and kill anyone who threw attack balloons from Gaza, a proposal the head of state opposed. -Major of the time, Gadi Eisenkot.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.