Israel strikes Gaza again after activists set Israel on fire
JERUSALEM – Israeli airstrikes hit several sites in Gaza on Thursday night for the second time in three days, after Palestinian militants sent incendiary balloons into farmlands in southern Israel for the third day in a row.
There have been no reported casualties in Israel or Gaza, but the exchange raised the specter of a return to full-scale conflict for the first time since the end of an 11-day air war. has almost a month.
The IDF said it targeted military complexes and a rocket launching site near Gaza City and Khan Younis, two of the strip’s largest cities, shortly before midnight on Thursday. A Hamas-linked outlet in Gaza reported beatings at sites near Gaza City and Khan Younis, as well as in Jabalia, a town in the north of the Strip.
About an hour later, early Friday morning, sirens sounded in areas of southern Israel near Gaza, a warning that the IDF said was triggered by gunfire from militants in Gaza, not by rockets, which could have led to response.
The Israeli airstrikes followed attempts by militants in Gaza to set fire to Israeli farmland surrounding the Strip. The activists sent balloons over the perimeter fence which were attached to incendiary devices. Eight fires were reported Thursday, in addition to dozens earlier this week.
Analysts and diplomats are skeptical that Hamas or Israel wants a repeat of the war in May. Israel’s new government has barely entered its mandate for a few days, as Hamas is still calculating the cost of the damage done last month. IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi is still planning to visit his counterparts in the United States this weekend.
“If there had been an appetite to upscale and increase, it would have happened already,” Tor Wennesland, United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. morning.
But as the exchanges on Thursday and Friday came to a halt before a large-scale escalation, they underscored the fragile nature of the ceasefire that followed the air war in May.
The new Israeli government does not want to appear weak and is trying to differentiate itself from Benjamin Netanyahu, whose administration he replaced on Sunday. Mr Netanyahu has tended to ignore the balloons, while his successors want to show that the balloons will be met with a military response.
“What was is not what will be,” a Defense Ministry official said this week.
Hamas is reluctant to let the recent behavior of the Israeli police and far-right activists in Jerusalem go unchallenged, which many Palestinians see as offensive and provocative.
Despite mediation by Egyptian officials and the United Nations, Hamas and Israel have yet to reach a lasting ceasefire agreement.
Reconstruction in Gaza of thousands of homes, clinics, schools and major infrastructure systems has barely begun, and a damage assessment has yet to be completed by Egypt and the United Nations. Israel continues to block the import and export of most items, including millions of dollars in aid from Qatar, on which Gaza’s economy depends.
For years, an Israeli and Egyptian blockade limited what enters and leaves Gaza, while Israel controls Gaza’s airspace, access to water, cellular data and the birth registry, and bans access of Palestinians to agricultural land at the edge of the strip.
Talks on a new reconstruction agreement have stalled due to disagreements over the role the Palestinian Authority should play in managing the efforts. Hamas ousted authority from Gaza in 2007, and it now only administers parts of the occupied West Bank.
Hamas is also seeking to include in the deal the release of hundreds of Palestinians held in Israeli jails. Israel wants Hamas to hand over two missing Israeli citizens and the remains of two Israeli soldiers.
Amid these disagreements and delays, many Palestinians in Gaza are still waiting for some sort of normalcy.
More than 8,000 remain homeless after their homes were destroyed during the war, some living in the classrooms of a UN-run school in Gaza City.
“The war will be over when I leave this place,” a new homeless man, Mohammad Gharbain, 36, said in a school interview on Wednesday. “The war continues as long as I am here.”
Iyad Abuheweila contributed reporting from Gaza City and Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem.