IDF shells Hamas post following gunfire from Gaza

Netanyahu warns Palestinian terror group that Israel will respond harshly to ‘any display of aggression’

Illustrative: An Israeli army tank patrols along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on May 29, 2018. (Jack GUEZ/AFP)
Illustrative: An Israeli army tank patrols along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip on May 29, 2018. (Jack GUEZ/AFP)

An Israel Defense Forces tank on Thursday shelled a Hamas post in the northern Gaza Strip after Palestinian gunmen fired on an Israeli military position along the border fence, the army said.

No Israeli soldiers were injured by the gunfire, the military said. Hebrew-language media said the target was an IDF pillbox, which is a concrete structure that offers protection against rifle fire.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether there were casualties in the Israeli strike.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Israel-Egypt border on Thursday afternoon and was briefed on the Gaza security situation. In a statement following the visit, Netanyahu, who also serves as defense minister, said he was “aware that in the last few days Hamas’s aggression is renewing in all sorts of forms,” threatening that “any display of aggression will be met with a determined reaction from Israel.”

The border region has seen increasingly intense bouts of violence over the last several days, with Israel carrying out airstrikes in response to explosives tied to balloons launched from Gaza.

A picture taken on November 12, 2018, shows smoke rising above the building housing the Hamas-run television station al-Aqsa TV in the Gaza Strip during an Israeli air strike. (Mahmud Hams / AFP)

Earlier Thursday, Israeli warplanes bombed a Hamas naval post in Gaza, hours after a mortar shell was fired from the Palestinian enclave at southern Israel.

Palestinian media reported that the target was a Hamas naval commando base. A Palestinian security source confirmed a Hamas base was struck, causing damage but no injuries. The Hamas-linked Shehab news site said the site was northwest of Khan Younis.

The army said the strike, at about 1:30 a.m. was in response to a projectile fired from the Palestinian enclave and an explosives-laden balloons launched at Israel Wednesday night.

Hours earlier the army said that it had fired an Iron Dome air defense missile in response to the incoming mortar shell from the Strip.

It was not clear the projectile from Gaza had been intercepted or where it landed. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

A cluster of balloons carrying what appears to be a cardboard model of a drone that was launched from the Gaza Strip touches down in southern Israel on February 20, 2019. (Eshkol Security)

There have also been nightly clashes between Palestinian rioters and troops along the border fence, including on Wednesday night.

Gaza’s health ministry said early Thursday that Saif al-Din Abu Zaid, 15, “succumbed to wounds he sustained a few hours ago on the border region east of Gaza City.” Health ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said he was shot during clashes along the border late Wednesday.

An Israeli army spokeswoman did not comment on the specific incident but said hundreds of “rioters” had hurled rocks and explosive devices at troops along the border, with soldiers responding according to “standard operating procedures.”

A masked Palestinian pulls a burning tire during a night demonstration near the fence along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on February 11, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Israel has accused Hamas, a terror group that is the de facto ruler in the Strip, of encouraging the riots and using them as cover for more sophisticated attacks. Analysts also believe Hamas may be using the demonstrations to increase pressure on Israel to agree to a new ceasefire deal that includes allowing the transfer of millions of dollars in aid money.

An Egyptian delegation traveled to Gaza this week in a bid to convince Hamas leaders to tamp down the violence. They warned that “creating tensions on the border by launching incendiary balloons will bring the IDF to launch a broad military confrontation in the Strip,” according to a report from the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper, which cited a senior Hamas source.

On Monday, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh accused Israel of breaking a previous ceasefire, which has given way to the renewal of fighting.

Judah Ari Gross, Adam Rasgon and AFP contributed to this report.

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