Pro-Hamas activists launch incendiary balloons into Israel
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli warplanes struck a target in the southern Gaza Strip, the Israeli military announced early Monday, saying it was responding to the launches of incendiary balloons that caused at least three blazes in southern Israel.
The military said it had struck a Hamas military base. It said the base was near civilian areas that included a school but gave no further details. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
The airstrike came several hours after the incendiary balloons were launched into Israel by activists linked to Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group. Photos and video posted on social media showed them sending the balloons into Israel. On one of them was written the message: “Time is running out.”
The launches came two months after an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas. The Islamic militant group is upset that Israel has done little to ease a crippling blockade on the territory since the fighting ended, and over delays in indirect negotiations with Israel to resume Qatari financial aid to Gaza.
Israeli media reported at least three fires set in southern Israel, breaking a three-week lull in the launches of the balloons.
Israel’s new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, has compared the balloon launches to rocket fire and has ordered airstrikes following previous instances as well.
In an initial response, COGAT, the Israeli defense body that oversees Palestinian civilian affairs, announced Sunday that Israel was cutting the fishing zone for Gazan fishermen in half, from 12 nautical miles to six nautical miles. Reducing the fishing area is a common Israeli response to fire emanating from Gaza.
Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade of Gaza since Hamas, a group sworn to seek Israel’s destruction, seized power in 2007. The blockade includes Israeli control over the territory’s coast and airspace.