Israeli airstrikes hit Hamas targets in Gaza after fresh arson balloon attacks

IDF says it targeted terror group’s underground infrastructure; move comes after Egyptian mediators leave Strip after bid to reduce tensions

Smoke and flames rise after Israeli aircraft carry out airstrikes near the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah on August 12, 2020. (Said Khatib/AFP)
Smoke and flames rise after Israeli aircraft carry out airstrikes near the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah on August 12, 2020. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Israeli warplanes and aircraft carried out strikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip early Tuesday in response to continued arson balloon attacks on Israel, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The army said it hit “underground infrastructure of the Hamas terror group,” but gave no further details on the targets.

The Hamas-linked al-Resalah news reported Israeli shelling in the northern Gaza Strip and airstrikes in southern Gaza close to Rafah City, around the disused Yasser Arafat International Airport.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The army said the strikes were in retaliation for a series of arson balloon attacks on Monday, including one suspected of having started a small fire outside a kindergarten in the southern town of Sderot.

Firefighters were called to the scene and quickly put out the blaze in a plastic closet outside the school.

The blaze was one of 20 fires that erupted in areas surrounding the Gaza Strip on Monday, suspected to have been started by the arson balloons.

Damage caused by an incendiary ballon that landed outside of a kindergarten in Sderot, August 17, 2020. (Israel Fire Department)

The continued violence comes despite the efforts of Egyptian mediators, who were in the Gaza Strip on Monday in a bid to reduce tensions and prevent a new cross-border conflict between Israel and Hamas.

They departed without appearing to have secured a resolution.

Mediators typically announce any agreements before leaving the territory. But after a day of meetings with officials from Hamas, the three Egyptian general intelligence envoys left for Israel, according to Adel Abdelrahman, a Gaza-based advisor to the Egyptian mediators. They made no declaration before departing.

Recent hostilities broke out along the Gaza-Israel frontier after months of calm.

For the past week, Palestinian youth groups affiliated with Hamas, the terror group that seized control of Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, have flown incendiary balloons toward Israel, setting swaths of farmland on fire. Israel, which holds Hamas responsible for violence emanating from the territory, has responded with airstrikes on Hamas military sites, banned Gaza’s fishermen from taking to the sea and shut the main commercial crossing into the territory.

On Tuesday, the lone power plant in Gaza is scheduled to shut down because the closure of Kerem Shalom crossing has cut fuel supplies, exacerbating the power crisis and leaving Gaza’s 2 million residents with about four hours of electricity a day.

Hamas says Israel did not honor previous understandings reached with the help of Egypt and Qatar, in which Israel should ease the blockade it has imposed on Gaza since Hamas’s takeover and allow for large-scale projects to help rescue the collapsing economy.

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