Israeli jets strike Hamas targets after mortar launched from Gaza

IDF says aircraft hit naval vessels belonging to terror group and military site in northern Strip, day after mortar and suspected balloon-borne bomb launched at Israel

Palestinian men clear the rubble at the site of a Israeli air strike near an seaport under construction, near Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 9, 2019. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Palestinian men clear the rubble at the site of a Israeli air strike near an seaport under construction, near Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on March 9, 2019. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Israeli planes struck targets in the Gaza Strip early Sunday, the latest tit-for-tat cross-border fighting that has set the restive region on edge.

The Israel Defense Forces said fighter jets and aircraft hit several targets, including a military compound in the north of the Strip and two naval vessels belonging to the Hamas terror group.

Palestinian media reported several Israeli strikes around 1:30 a.m. in the northern Strip near Beit Lahia, including on a seaside site known as al-Waha, or Oasis.

There was no immediate word on casualties from the strikes, which came after Palestinian terrorists in Gaza fired a mortar shell at the Eshkol region of southern Israel on Saturday night.

The army said the strikes were in response to the rocket attack, as well as “continuing terror activities from the Strip, including balloon explosives and causing harm to security infrastructure in the last several days.”

The mortar was the third to be fired at Israel since Wednesday as tensions between the sides continued to simmer. Gazans have also launched balloon borne bombs at Israel and fired small arms across the border, along with near-daily protests at the fence in which fire bombs are thrown at troops and Palestinians attempt to damage the barriers, according to the army.

On Saturday, sappers were called after a cluster of balloons suspected of carrying an explosive device, possibly an anti-tank warhead, landed in Israeli territory.

A screenshot from a Channel 13 report on March 9, 2019 showing a police officer at the spot where a controlled explosion of a cluster of balloons carrying a missile warhead took place.

And homeowners in the Hof Ashkelon region north of Gaza said they found a spent bullet shell, possibly from a Kalashnikov rifle, in their living room, seemingly confirming that a large hole torn through an outside wall on Thursday had been caused by gunfire from Gaza.

The past week has seen a marked uptick in cross-border fighting, including nightly riots along the border fence. There have been no injuries from the attacks from Gaza. On Thursday, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said a teen was killed by Israeli fire during border clashes the night before.

Palestinians climb the border fence with Israel during clashes near the fence along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on March 8, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Israel has carried out perfunctory air raids after each balloon or mortar attack, usually hitting empty military posts maintained by the Hamas terror group, which is the de facto ruler in the Strip.

Illustrative. An Israeli soldier stands near balloons released by Palestinian protesters from the Gaza Strip that landed inside Israel on October 19, 2018. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Locals have urged authorities to seek a long-term solution, with the region appearing poised to slip back into a routine of violence after several months of relative calm thanks to a hard-won ceasefire brokered by Egypt.

“If the children of the Gaza periphery aren’t sleeping at night because of the situation, it must also wake the policy-makers and those responsible for the security of the citizens of the State of Israel,” Gadi Yarkoni, head of the Eshkol Local Council which border Gaza, said in a statement, after a late-night air raid siren caused by the mortar fire Saturday night.

Egypt and other mediators have been working intensively in recent weeks to broker a new ceasefire agreement between the two sides, but thus far to no avail.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hamas that Israel would respond harshly to any further violence emanating from the Strip.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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