The Israel Defense Forces launched airstrikes in the Gaza Strip late Saturday night in retaliation for airborne arson attacks from the coastal enclave and renewed riots along the border.
The raids on Hamas targets south of Gaza City came hours after two fires were sparked in southern Israel by balloon-borne incendiary devices launched from the Gaza Strip. Hours later, Palestinians resumed clashes with Israeli forces along the Gaza border, as Hamas threatened to step up the cross-border arson attacks from Sunday.
The military said the airstrikes targeted a Hamas military compound used for training and weapon production, and the opening of a “terror tunnel.”
“The IDF will continue to respond forcefully against Hamas’s terror attempts,” the army said, underlining that its raids were in response to both the fires and border violence.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza on Saturday night said 11 Palestinians were wounded in the border clashes with Israeli troops. According to the ministry, three of those wounded were hit by live fire and are in moderate condition. The other eight are said to have been lightly hurt from rubber bullets or shock grenades. It was not immediately clear if the Israeli airstrikes on Saturday night caused injury or damage.
The “night confusion units” behind the border riots do not officially tie themselves to Hamas, though their activities could not take place without the approval of the terror group that rules the Strip.
In the past, Gazans involved in such activities have burned tires, hurled explosive devices, and played fake rocket alert noises in an attempt to confuse Israeli residents living near the border and harass soldiers guarding the border.
The clashes come despite Israel on Thursday easing some of its restrictions on trade and movement, allowing additional goods and materials to enter Gaza. It also allowed another 1,000 Gazan businessmen to leave through the Erez Crossing with Israel to travel to the West Bank.
Gaza has seen two border protests in the past week — a major violent rally last Saturday and a second, relatively calmer one on Wednesday.
On Saturday the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry announced that a 13-year-old boy who was critically injured in last Saturday’s clashes with Israeli soldiers has succumbed to his wounds.
Omar Abu Nil, a resident of Gaza City’s Al-Tuffah neighborhood, was shot in the head by Israeli fire, according to Hamas health officials. Abu Nil was treated for a week in a Gaza hospital before passing away.
Abu Nil was allegedly shot by Israeli forces during the violent protest that saw hundreds of Palestinian protesters approach the fence, throw stones and burn tires. Israeli troops responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, and a form of live fire.
Besides Abu Nil, one other Palestinian and one Israeli police officer were critically wounded during the clashes. The other Palestinian, Osama Dueij, passed away on Thursday; Hamas claimed Dueij as a member of its armed wing.
The Israeli police officer, Barel Shmueli, 21, remains in serious condition in Soroka Hospital in Beersheba. Shmueli was shot at point-blank range when a Palestinian man approached a slit in a barrier where Shmueli was stationed and fired a pistol at him.
من وداع الطفل عمر أبو النيل الطالب في الصف التاسع pic.twitter.com/VbD6xjZ1Ll
— حسن اصليح | Hassan (@hassaneslayeh) August 28, 2021
Gazans held another border protest last Wednesday as part of a series of activities to pressure Israel into lifting restrictions on the tightly blockaded enclave. The Israeli military geared up for a serious confrontation along the border, but the protest passed without any deaths or serious injuries on either side.
Israel and Egypt have blockaded Gaza for over a decade, saying the restrictions are necessary to prevent Hamas from arming itself and presenting an even greater threat.
Since May’s 11-day battle between Israel and Hamas, Israel has imposed even tighter restrictions on goods entering and leaving the Strip. It has also blocked Qatari subsidies from entering Gaza, a key element of the status quo ante. The two sides are still conducting indirect negotiations to reach new understandings.
But Israeli officials have vowed that there will be no significant reconstruction of Gaza — which sustained heavy damage during the recent escalation — without a prisoner exchange deal between the two sides. Hamas currently holds captive two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, as well as the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.
The past few weeks have seen apparent progress in some aspects of the talks. Earlier this month, Israel, Qatar and the United Nations agreed on a new mechanism to transfer Qatari cash into Gaza. Israel also reduced some restrictions, allowing some cement, cars and computers to enter, and for around 1,250 Gazan businessmen to leave.
A deal between the two sides for a more comprehensive ceasefire, however, has yet to materialize.