Israel bombs Hamas as Gazans step up nighttime rioting along border

Strike comes after explosive hurled at border sets off rocket siren, as Hamas-run ‘confusion unit’ threatens to expand night protests

Palestinian protesters burn tires during a night protest near the border with Israel, east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 19, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)
Palestinian protesters burn tires during a night protest near the border with Israel, east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 19, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

Israeli military aircraft bombed Hamas targets in the Gaza strip early Sunday as Palestinians rioted along the border in renewed nighttime demonstrations.

The strikes came less than an hour after a rocket alarm sounded in some Israeli communities bordering the strip, triggered by an improvised bomb thrown at the border.

The Israel Defense Forces said aircraft struck two Hamas reconnaissance posts in response to “the multitude of [explosive] devices that were thrown and exploded during the night.”

There were no immediate reports of injuries from the strikes. Four Palestinians were reported injured, including one seriously, by Israeli live fire during the border riots earlier in the night.

Palestinian protesters take part in a night demonstration near the fence along the border with Israel, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 19, 2019. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Nighttime riots in Gaza have been led by so-called “confusion units” organized by the Hamas terror group, the Strip’s de facto ruler. On Saturday, the unit said it would step up activities, with a week of nightly riots from 7 p.m. until dawn along the border and more airborne incendiary devices launched into Israel. It said the move was in response to the deaths of two Palestinians shot by troops during border riots Friday.

During the nightly demonstrations, participants generally set off loud explosives or sounds grenades, burn tires and throw rocks at Israeli troops on the other side of the security fence.

Israeli soldiers typically respond with tear gas and, in some cases, live fire.

On Saturday, Israeli military aircraft launched a pair of strikes at Palestinian cells flying incendiary balloons from the southern Gaza Strip into Israel, the army said.

Four Palestinians were injured in the strikes.

On Friday, several thousand Palestinians took part in violent protests on the Gaza-Israel border, throwing explosive devices and rocks at Israeli soldiers who responded with tear gas and occasional live fire.

Palestinians riot on the border fence with Israel east of Gaza City on March 22, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Recent weeks have seen an uptick of incendiary balloons launched from the coastal enclave, after a drop-off in attacks following an unofficial truce between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group in November.

The launch of incendiary and explosive devices into Israel tied to kites and helium-filled balloons became a common tactic in violent protests along the Gaza border over the past year, burning thousands of acres of farmland and nature reserves, and killing livestock and other animals.

No Israelis have been injured by the recent balloon attacks, though damage was caused to a home in the Eshkol region last month.

This picture taken on March 22, 2019 shows a balloons carrying a make-shift drone-shaped object flying over the border with Israel east of Gaza City, after it was set loose by Palestinian protesters during a protest by the fence. (Said KHATIB / AFP)

There are fears that violence will ramp up later this month when Hamas is hoping to draw hundreds of thousands of rioters to the fence Friday to mark a year of so-called March of Return protests.

Israel says the demonstrations are orchestrated by Hamas, which vocally supports them, sending free buses to the border and providing food and internet to participants — as well as money for those injured in them — in order to provide a cover for the organization’s nefarious activities along the security fence, including infiltration attempts, the planting of explosives and attacks on Israeli soldiers.

Their organizers have said the protests aim to achieve the “return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands that are now part of Israel, and pressure the Jewish state to lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave.

Israeli officials hold that the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants would destroy Israel’s Jewish character. They also maintain that the restrictions on movement are in place to prevent Hamas and other terrorist groups from smuggling weapons into the Strip.

The sides are said to be engaged in Egyptian mediated ceasefire talks.

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