Israel launched airstrikes against Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip for the fourth night in a row late Friday in response to a spate of attacks using balloon-borne arson and explosive devices sent from the Strip into Israel in recent days.
The overnight attack on sites used by Hamas, the Islamist terror group that rules the enclave, was the fifth such operation since the start of the week.
The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that combat helicopters and tanks hit a number of terror targets belonging to Hamas, including sites used by its naval forces, underground infrastructure and observation posts.
“The attack was carried out in response to balloons with explosives and incendiary balloons [launched] from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory over the past week,” the IDF said.
The IDF added that it holds Hamas responsible for all acts in and emanating from the Strip.
There have been no reports of casualties in the latest bout of violence in the south.
Makeshift firebombs attached to bunches of balloons or kites ignited over 100 fires in Israel in the past week, setting alight agricultural fields and brush. Officials said most were small fires, but some caused damage.
Friday night’s attack came a day after Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to normalize ties in a landmark US-brokered deal, ratcheting up tensions in the West Bank and Gaza.
The agreement infuriated the Palestinian leadership, who called it a “betrayal” of their cause, including their claim to Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
Palestinians also held protests against the deal in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Protesters taking part in Friday prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem trampled and then set fire to a poster of the UAE leader to protest accord.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called an emergency meeting of PA leadership in response to the agreement, while the PA recalled its ambassador to the UAE in protest over the deal.
Abu Dhabi has sought to portray its action as first and foremost benefiting the Palestinians, as it puts off and possibly cancels Israel’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank.
The Haaretz daily reported Friday that Israel communicated that it won’t allow the transfer of a monthly sum of $30 million from Qatar to Gaza unless the spate of incendiary balloon attacks stops.
The report, which did not cite a source, added that the Qatari envoy himself is “not thrilled” to go to the Strip until the escalation is over.
Palestinian analysts say attacks from Gaza often aim to pressure Israel to give the green light for the transfer of the Qatari financial aid into the Strip.
In response to the attacks, Israel has already closed its cargo crossing with the Strip, with exceptions made for food and humanitarian aid, and also reduced the territory’s permitted coastal fishing zone.
The practice of launching balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices from the Gaza Strip toward Israel has waxed and waned over the past two years, with an uptick since the end of last week.