Israeli warplanes struck dozens of Hamas targets in Gaza early Wednesday in response to a barrage of rockets fired by Palestinian militants into southern Israel, military officials said.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it had targeted about 25 Hamas positions overnight in response to the heavy fire, which began late Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. Just before the airstrikes, Palestinians had fired about 45 rockets and mortars at Israel, seven of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, the IDF said.
At least three other projectiles fell short and landed inside Gaza, the military added. No casualties were reported in Israel or Gaza.
The rocket attacks by Palestinian militants came just hours after Israel said it had attacked Hamas infrastructure in response to “arson balloons” launched from Gaza into Israel. Hamas did not claim responsibility for the rocket attacks but said they were “a legitimate right that bombing is met with bombing.”
The rocket fire into Israel was “proof that the forces of resistance are the ones setting the rules of the game,” group spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
Israel has been hit repeatedly with kites and balloons rigged with burning rags or incendiary devices, which have started fires that have burned forests and destroyed cropland. Palestinian militants are launching the makeshift weapons as a part of mass rallies along Israel’s border to protest the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza.
The kite and balloon attacks began in mid-May amid Palestinian protests timed to coincide with the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. The launches become more frequent in recent days, however, and communities in southern Israel are putting more pressure on the military to stop them.
Although the Israeli military has largely targeted infrastructure next to the balloon launch sites, it “will not tolerate” the daily attacks on its territory, IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said, according to the AP.
Wednesday’s exchange of fire appeared to be the heaviest since May 29, when Israel carried out over 35 airstrikes on seven sites across Gaza, including a cross-border tunnel controlled by Hamas and Islamic Jihad — the two primary militant groups in the Palestinian enclave. Immediately prior to those airstrikes, Palestinian militants had launched roughly 70 projectiles toward southern Israel. (RELATED: Israel Responds To Hamas Mortar Barrage With Airstrikes In Gaza Strip)
The hostile atmosphere along the Israel-Gaza border has sparked fears that low-intensity violence will explode into a larger war like the one between Israel and Hamas in 2014. That conflict killed hundreds of civilians and devastated much of Gaza’s already decrepit infrastructure.
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