Israeli warplanes have attacked a Hamas target in Gaza following a Palestinian rocket strike, the Israeli military said, in the first serious cross-border escalation since a surge in fighting last month.
In a statement on Thursday, Israel’s military said fighter planes attacked “underground infrastructure” in a compound belonging to the Hamas group that rules the Gaza Strip after Israeli air defences intercepted a rocket launched from the besieged territory. There were no reports of injuries or casualties.
The latest hostilities followed Israel’s closure of offshore waters to Gaza fisherman on Wednesday in what it said was a response to incendiary balloons launched across the frontier that caused fires in fields in southern Israel this week.
“Due to the continuous launching of incendiary balloons and kites from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, it has been decided tonight [Wednesday] not to allow access to Gaza’s maritime space until further notice,” COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry department responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, said.
A spokesman for the Israeli fire service said incendiary balloons from Gaza caused seven fires on Tuesday alone. In the past year, Palestinians have succeeded in setting fire to large areas of farmland in southern Israel.
A rocket was launched from Gaza at Israeli civilians last night. It did not reach its target, as it was intercepted by the Iron Dome Aerial Defense System. We responded to the attack by striking an underground terror infrastructure in a Hamas compound in Gaza.
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) June 13, 2019
In two days of heavy fighting in early May, projectiles from Gaza killed four civilians in Israel, local health officials said. In the same period, Israeli raids killed 21 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, according to Gaza health authorities.
Some two million Palestinians live in Gaza, whose economy has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’s rival in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Israel says its blockade is necessary to stop arms reaching Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since the group seized control of Gaza in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its settlers and troops from the small coastal enclave.
Israel and Palestinian factions in Gaza have fought three wars since then.