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Israel says it carried out airstrikes on Hamas compounds after incendiary balloons launched from Gaza

Israel mounted airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday — the first since the end of 11 days of cross-border fighting last month — in response to incendiary balloons launched from the Palestinian territory.

The Israeli military said its aircraft attacked Hamas armed compounds in Gaza City and the southern town of Khan Younis and it was “ready for all scenarios, including renewed fighting in the face of continued terrorist acts emanating from Gaza.”

The flare-up, a test for Israel’s fragile new government, followed a march in East Jerusalem on Tuesday by Israeli nationalists that had drawn threats of action by Hamas, the ruling militant group in Gaza.

The strikes, the military said, came in response to the launching of the incendiary balloons, which the Israeli fire brigade reported caused 20 blazes in open fields in communities near the Gaza border. 

The attacks were the first launched by Israel and Gaza militants since an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire took effect.

An Israeli firefighter attempts to extinguish a fire caused by an incendiary balloon launched from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday. (Tsafrir Abayov/The Associated Press)

A Hamas spokesperson, confirming the Israeli attacks, said Palestinians would continue to pursue their “brave resistance and defend their rights and sacred sites” in Jerusalem.

Hours earlier, thousands of flag-waving Israelis congregated around the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City before heading to Judaism’s holy Western Wall, drawing Palestinian anger and condemnation.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in a 1967 war and later annexed it in a move that is not recognized internationally. Israel regards the entire city as its capital; Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state that would include the West Bank and Gaza.

Prior to Tuesday’s march, Israel beefed up its deployment of the Iron Dome anti-missile system in anticipation of possible rocket attacks from Gaza. But as the marchers began to disperse after nightfall in Jerusalem, there was no sign of rocket fire from the enclave.

The procession was originally scheduled for May 10 as part of “Jerusalem Day” festivities that celebrate Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem.

At the last minute, that march was diverted away from the Damascus Gate and the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, but the move was not enough to dissuade Hamas from firing rockets toward Jerusalem, attacks that set off last month’s round of fighting.

Tuesday’s crowd, while boisterous, appeared to be much smaller than during last month’s parade. From the Damascus Gate, they proceeded around the Old City to the Western Wall, the holiest place where Jews can pray.

Ahead of the march, Israeli police cleared the area in front of Damascus Gate, shut down roads to traffic, ordered shops to close and sent away young Palestinian protesters. Police said that officers arrested 17 people suspected of involvement in violence, some of whom threw rocks and attacked police, and that two police officers needed medical treatment. Palestinians said five people were hurt in clashes with police.

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