The Israeli military says its aircraft struck Hamas sites in Gaza early in response to incendiary balloons launched from the besieged Palestinian enclave as a recent rise in violence tests a fragile truce that ended a deadly assault on Gaza in May.
The army said on Sunday hundreds of Palestinians gathered along the separation barrier between Israel and the Gaza Strip during the night, hurling explosives and burning tyres and that troops responded with “riot dispersal means”.
Palestinian groups had announced on Saturday they were resuming protests at the separation barrier, aiming to press Israel to ease punishing restrictions on the isolated territory.
Protests erupted later that day, with the Israeli army firing live rounds, tear gas, and stun grenades as Palestinians burned tyres. The health ministry in Gaza said 11 Palestinians had been hurt in the clashes, three of them by live rounds.
“The [air] strikes were in response to Hamas launching incendiary balloons into Israeli territory and the violent riots that took place yesterday,” a statement from the Israeli army said.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on the Gaza Strip since Hamas began governing Gaza in 2007 after winning Palestinian elections. There have been four violent confrontations between Israel and Hamas since, the most recent being May’s assault.
The blockade restricts the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza and has ravaged the territory’s economy and harming the population of two million.
Palestinians said the demonstration was the first in a series of nighttime protests and would continue throughout the week.
“The occupation will not enjoy calm unless the siege on our beloved land is lifted,” said Abu Omar, a spokesman for the protesters.
‘Operate according to our interests’
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said early Sunday: “We will operate in Gaza according to our interests.”
On Saturday, Palestinians in Gaza laid to rest Omar Hassan Abu al-Neil, 12, who died of his wounds after being shot by Israeli forces during border clashes a week earlier.
An Egyptian-mediated truce ended May’s Israeli assault on Gaza in which Gaza fighters fired rockets towards Israeli cities and Israel bombed across the enclave. As many as 260 Palestinians, including 67 children, and 12 people in Israel were killed in 11 days of fighting.
But violence has recently increased despite an Israeli announcement this month of a resumption of Qatari aid to Gaza, a decision that was seen as bolstering the truce.
Palestinian groups say Israel has yet to make good on its word and, over the past two weeks, fighters have fired a rocket and sent balloons carrying incendiary material into Israel, setting off brush fires and drawing retaliatory attacks on Hamas facilities.