IDF strikes Hamas in Gaza in response to explosive balloons from Strip

Israeli helicopter hits terror infrastructure in northern part of Palestinian territory, army says, following at least 2 airborne bombs landing in southern Israel

Illustrative: An Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, November 27, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Illustrative: An Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, November 27, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israeli aircraft attacked targets in the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday for the second day in a row, as tensions rose on the volatile border.

The strikes came in response to explosives-laden balloons that were sent from Gaza into Israel earlier in the day.

“A short time ago an IDF combat helicopter attacked infrastructure used for underground activity by the Hamas terror organization in the northern Gaza Strip. The attack was carried out in response to explosive balloons sent from the Gaza Strip into Israel territory today,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

There were no immediate reports from Gaza on damage or casualties in the strikes.

Video published by Israel’s Kan news purported to show Hamas members leaving a post ahead of the strike.

Earlier Thursday, at least two clusters of balloons carrying explosive devices were apparently launched from the Strip into southern Israel, with one of them detonating soon after impact, police said.

One of the clusters landed in an open field and the other got tangled in a tree.

Police sappers were called to the scenes in the Sdot Negev region east of Gaza.

One of the devices exploded as the sappers arrived at the scene, causing no injuries or damage, police said.

The sappers collected the remains of the device in order to study what type of explosives were used, a police spokesperson said.

The tactic of launching balloons carrying explosive and arson devices from Gaza into Israel emerged in 2018 as part of a series of protests and riots along the Strip’s border, known collectively as the March of Return. The simple and cheap method of attack by Palestinians has proved effective as Israeli security forces have struggled to counter the tactic, but had largely stopped over half a year ago.

On Wednesday evening, police sappers were dispatched to the border town of Sderot where a suspicious object attached to a cluster of balloons landed in a residential neighborhood.

A cluster of balloons carrying a suspected explosive device launched from the Gaza Strip that landed in southern Israel on January 16, 2020. (Courtesy)

It appeared to mark the renewal of the arson balloon attacks that torched thousands of acres of Israeli fields along the Gaza border in recent years.

That incident came after terrorists — reportedly belonging to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group — also on Wednesday fired four mortar shells from Gaza toward southern Israel, causing neither injury nor damage, according to the army.

Two of the incoming projectiles were intercepted by the military’s Iron Dome air defense system. The other two appeared to strike open fields in Israel’s Sha’ar Hanegev region, east of northern Gaza.

Hours later, the Israeli Air Force launched a series of strikes on Hamas sites in the Gaza Strip. According to the IDF, fighter jets attacked several Hamas facilities, including a weapons production site and a military base.

The mortar attack shattered a period of relative calm along the border.

Palestinian youth prepare incendiary balloons, to send to Israel east of Bureij refugee camp, in the Gaza Strip, on May 31, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/ Flash90)

Earlier this week, alarms sounded in Nahal Oz, apparently due to heavy machine gun fire from the coastal enclave.

But the last several months have seen relative calm along the border following a two-day flareup in November, though sporadic rocket attacks have persisted.

Israel has reportedly warned the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups against any attempted response to the US targeted killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani earlier this month.

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