Israel strikes Gaza in response to incendiary balloons

Israel carried out airstrikes on the Gaza Strip early Wednesday after militants in the Palestinian territory sent incendiary balloons into the country’s south, in the first major conflict between the two sides since a flare-up in May in which hundreds were killed.

The strikes were the first under the new coalition government headed by Naftali Bennett, who took over on Sunday after ousting former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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And they come as more than a thousand 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, Israel’s air force targeted at least one site east of Khan Yunis in the south of the Gaza Strip, which is home to some two million people.

An AFP photojournalist in Khan Yunis saw the explosions.

The Israeli Defence Force said that in response to the “arson balloons”, its “fighter jets struck military compounds belonging to the Hamas terror organisation”.

It added that “facilities and meeting sites for terror operatives” in Khan Yunis were targeted. However, there was no indication of casualties so far.

Local firefighters said the incendiary balloons caused around 20 fires in southern Israel.

The violence marks the first significant flare-up between Israel and Palestinian militants since a ceasefire came into place in May, ending 11 days of heavy fighting that killed 260 Palestinians, according to Gaza authorities, and 13 people in Israel, the police and army there said.

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