The Israeli military conducted airstrikes in Gaza on Wednesday night. The strikes were in response to dozens of incendiary balloons launched from Gaza set multiple fires in southern Israel earlier in the day. 

Israeli firefighters said that they responded to more than 20 fires started by incendiary devices.

The airstrikes are the first in Gaza since the new government of Naftali Bennett took power from longtime Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and since a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza went into effect about a month ago.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said they struck Hamas military sites and meeting places for the Khan Younis and Gaza brigades.

The official Palestinian News Agency WAFA, reported the airstrikes in Khan Younis and said “material damage” occurred. The news agency also reported on another site south of Gaza City being targeted. According to WAFA, there were no casualties. Likewise, the Israelis didn’t report any casualties on their side. 

Israeli firefighters responded to more than 20 fires that were started by incendiary devices dropped by balloons.
Israeli firefighters responded to more than 20 fires that were started by incendiary devices dropped by balloons. (Reuters)

The helium-filled balloons, which are equipped with incendiary devices, are regularly floated into Israel.

The IDF says the balloons were launched as a protest to the flag march in East Jerusalem. About a thousand Israelis had participated in the flag march through the Old City. Some members of ultra-nationalist Jewish organizations taking part in the march had chanted “Death to Arabs” and “This is our home.” Some of the marchers carried signs accusing Bennett of being a traitor and a liar. 

Palestinians also rushed to the scene as Israeli police tried to keep the two sides away from each other to an escalation.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said that 33 Palestinians were injured by stun grenades, rubber bullets, and live fire, and six were evacuated to local area hospitals during clashes with the police.

A Test for the New Israeli Government

These events are an early test for Bennett’s new coalition government. Many Israeli leftists celebrated the end of Netanyahu’s 12-year term of office. Yet, Bennett is also a member of the right and had urged Netanyahu to seek an even tougher stance against Hamas and the launching of incendiary balloons in the past. 

Nevertheless, Bennett created a political coalition with some parties on the left, including, for the first time, an Arab political party (the Raam Islamic party). This is an intriguing development in Israel which is frequently accused of being “an apartheid” state. 

The IDF characterizes the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s use of “arson balloons” as an escalation of violence that resulted in “fighter jets struck military compounds belonging to the Hamas terror organization.” The IDF added that “facilities and meeting sites for terror operatives” in Khan Yunis were targeted.

Following the Incendiary Balloon Attacks, Will Israel See a Resumption of Violence?

Israeli nationalist marchers gather in East Jerusalem
Israeli nationalist marchers gather in East Jerusalem on Wednesday. (AP)

In response to the Israeli airstrikes, Hamas spokesperson Hazem Kassem posted on Twitter, “The Zionist bombing of the Gaza Strip is a failed attempt to stop our people’s solidarity and resistance with the Holy City, and to cover up the unprecedented state of confusion for the Zionist establishment in organizing the so-called ‘flag-march.'”

The IDF stated that it was “prepared for any scenario, including a resumption of hostilities, in the face of continuing terror activities from the Gaza Strip.”

International authorities are concerned that the violence between Israel and Gaza is about to reignite.

Israeli and Palestinian militants signed a ceasefire in May. The ceasefire came after 11 days of heavy fighting during Hamas launched thousands of rockets at Israel and the Israelis conducted heavy airstrikes inside Gaza that killed 260 Palestinians. In Israel, 13 people were killed by the rockets. The majority of rockets were intercepted by the Israelis Iron Dome air defense systems.