Fresh Israeli air strikes in Gaza, challenging truce
GAZA CITY, June 16: Israeli aircraft struck Hamas sites in Gaza on Wednesday after incendiary balloons were launched from the Palestinian enclave in the first such attacks since a fragile ceasefire ended 11 days of deadly fighting last month.
Tension spilled over to the occupied West Bank, where the Israeli army said they shot a Palestinian woman after she attempted to attack soldiers. The Gaza strikes were the first under the new coalition government headed by Naftali Bennett, who took over on Sunday after ousting longtime prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The uptick in violence came after more than a thousand Jewish ultranationalist demonstrators bearing Israeli flags poured into Jerusalem's flashpoint Old City on Tuesday, with scores of police deployed and international monitors urging calm.
According to Palestinian sources, the Israeli air force targeted at least one site east of Khan Yunis in the south of the Gaza Strip. An AFP photojournalist in Khan Yunis saw the explosions. The military said that in response to the "arson balloons", its "fighter jets struck military compounds belonging to the Hamas terror organisation".
It said "facilities and meeting sites for terror operatives" in Khan Yunis were targeted. There was no indication of any casualties. The military added that it was "prepared for any scenario, including a resumption of hostilities, in the face of continuing terror activities from the Gaza Strip."
Israeli firefighters said the incendiary balloons caused around 20 fires. The violence is the first flare-up between Israel and Palestinian militants since a ceasefire took effect on May 21, ending 11 days of heavy fighting that killed 260 Palestinians including some fighters, the Gaza authorities said.
In Israel, 13 people were killed, including a soldier, by rockets and missiles fired from Gaza, the police and army said. In the West Bank on Wednesday, a Palestinian woman was shot after attempting to ram Israeli soldiers with her car and attack them with a knife, the military said.
The Palestinian health ministry said the woman later died of her wounds. The incident took place near Hizma, south of Ramallah, with official Palestinian news website Wafa identifying the woman as Mai Afana, 29, from the town of Abu Dis, just outside Jerusalem.
The previous day saw more than a thousand Israelis take to the streets of annexed east Jerusalem in a delayed and controversial march by nationalist and far-right activists. Both the United Nationas and the United States had called for restraint before the march, which Bennett's new government had authorised. -AFP