Iron Dome intercepts 6 projectiles

Palestinians fire 31 rockets and mortar shells from Gaza; IDF renews airstrikes

IDF strikes two tunnels, Hamas bases in Gaza; one rocket falls in a kibbutz; no injuries reported in Israel or Gaza as Israelis in border communities spend night in bomb shelters

Illustrative: An explosion is seen from the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip after an airstrike by Israeli forces in response to dozens of rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorist groups from the coastal enclave on June 20, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)
Illustrative: An explosion is seen from the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip after an airstrike by Israeli forces in response to dozens of rocket attacks by Palestinian terrorist groups from the coastal enclave on June 20, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Residents of Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip spent the night in bomb shelters as Palestinian terror groups fired at least 31 rockets and mortar shells into Israel, the army said. Six of the projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome system.

Palestinians in Gaza resumed rocket and mortar fire into Israel after dawn on Saturday, setting off warning sirens. Residents of Israeli communities along the border, who spent a tense night in bomb shelters, reported several loud explosions.

The IDF announced Saturday morning it carried out a series of air strikes on targets in the Gaza Strip, including hitting an attack tunnel in the north of the coastal enclave. An earlier strike targeted a tunnel in the south of the Strip.

There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side.

The renewed violence came after a night in which Israeli aircraft hit several sites in the Gaza Strip including several Hamas bases. Following the air raids, Palestinian terror groups launched several barrages of rockets or mortars into Israel.

One rocket landed inside a kibbutz in the Shar HaNegev Regional Council area.

The IDF said aircraft had attacked “an offensive terror tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip, in addition to several terror sites in military compounds throughout the Gaza Strip, among them complexes used to prepare arson terror attacks and a Hamas terror organization training facility.”

The IDF published video of its air strikes.

Following the airstrikes, rocket warning sirens wailed repeatedly in Israeli communities around the Gaza Strip, including the Sdot HaNegev Regional Council area and the town of Sderot. Residents reported sounds of explosions, Israel Radio reported.

About 30 minutes after the first wave, sirens sounded again in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council area and in the Eshkol region. Residents were warned to spend the night in bomb shelters.

The army said it held Hamas responsible for all violence emanating from Gaza, which it has ruled since 2007.

“The Hamas terror organization is responsible for the events transpiring in the Gaza Strip and emanating from it and will bear the consequences for its actions against Israeli civilians and Israeli sovereignty,” the army said, adding that “the IDF views Hamas’ terror activity with great severity and is prepared for a wide variety of scenarios.”

The violence came after an IDF officer was moderately wounded Friday afternoon when a grenade was hurled at him by assailants during clashes at the Gaza border fence, the army reported Friday night.

The military said soldiers fired back at the attackers and identified hitting them. The officer was rushed to Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center and has family has been notified.

It was the most serious attack on Israeli forces in over three months of border protests, during which time soldiers have on several occasions been targeted with gunfire and bombs.

Israel has long accused Hamas of using the weekly border demonstrations as cover to carry out attacks against Israel.

Earlier the Hamas-run health ministry said a 15-year-old Palestinian was killed during the clashes with the Israeli army along the Gaza border.

A picture taken on July 13, 2018 shows tear gas canisters fired by Israeli forces landing amidst protesters during a demonstration along the border with Israel east of Gaza City. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

It was not clear whether that incident was tied to the attack that wounded the officer.

The Israeli military said thousands took part in the demonstrations, and that soldiers were attacked with grenades, bombs, Molotov cocktails and rocks. Troops responded with less-lethal means and fired live rounds in certain cases, including at one person who tried to cut through the security fence.

Gaza officials said 220 others were hurt in the riots. Most were treated at the scene, while several dozen were taken to hospital. Friday’s violence was held under the banner of “Identifying with Khan al-Ahmar,” a West Bank Bedouin village whose planned demolition by Israel is being debated at the High Court.

Also Friday, two soldiers were lightly injured in a car crash near the Gaza border in the afternoon when a utility trailer connected to their vehicle overturned. The soldiers were taking part in efforts to put out a large fire caused by an incendiary kite at Kibbutz Or Haner.

Firefighters said they managed to get the blaze under control, with the help of several teams and four firefighting planes.

Israeli soldiers walk amidst smoke from a fire in a wheat field near the Kibbutz of Nahal Oz, along the border with the Gaza Strip, which was caused by incendiaries tied to kites flown by Palestinian protesters from across the border., May 14, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Officials said 15 separate fires had erupted in the Gaza periphery since the morning due to incendiary kites and balloons. All were brought under control.

Since March 30, weekly clashes have taken place on the Gaza border, with Israel accusing Hamas of using the demonstrations as cover to carry out attacks and attempt to breach the security fence. The “March of Return” protests have also seen Palestinians fly airborne incendiary devices toward Israeli territory, sparking hundreds of fires in southern Israel and causing millions of shekels in estimated damages.

The Israeli army has reportedly notified Hamas in recent days that if the incendiary kite and balloon attacks from the Gaza Strip don’t cease, Israel will respond with major military action.

The threat comes amid a period of increased tension between Israel and the Gaza-ruling terror group. On Monday, Israel announced it was shutting down the Kerem Shalom border crossing — the Strip’s main crossing for commercial goods — in response to the endless stream of incendiary and explosive kites and balloons that have been flown into southern Israel, sparking fires that have burned thousands of acres of land and caused millions of shekels in damages. Humanitarian and essential supplies continue to enter Gaza.

The IDF has sought to avoid an escalation of hostilities on the southern front despite the attacks, but according to the Haaretz daily, the political pressure to act has been building as the economic and psychological harm caused by the fires takes its toll.

Palestinians prepare a kite with flammable materials that they will fly into southern Israel from Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on June 22, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israeli officials have conveyed this to Hamas through an intermediary, and said a significant Israeli response was inevitable if the current situation continued, the paper reported.

The army is now examining options for a significant and painful military response against Hamas that would be pinpoint enough not to spark a full-fledged war, the report said.

Friday’s report came a day after an Israeli drone fired two missiles toward a group of Palestinians flying incendiary balloons into southern Israel from the northern Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian media.

This was the second such airstrike in less than 24 hours.

The IDF confirmed that one of its aircraft fired at a cell that had launched balloons toward Israel from northern Gaza. No injuries were reported in the airstrike, which the official Palestinian Wafa news outlet said occurred near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun.

Multiple Palestinian news outlets, including Wafa, reported that Israel conducted two strikes on Thursday, one near Beit Hanoun and a second east of the city of Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip.

An IDF spokesperson denied the Palestinian reports, saying he was “only familiar with one airstrike.”

The southern Israeli Eshkol regional council reported that a number of incendiary and booby-trapped balloons had been flown into the area throughout Thursday morning.

A banana field that was damaged by a fire sparked by an incendiary balloon from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israel Eshkol region on July 12, 2018. (Eshkol Security)

On Wednesday, incendiary kites and balloons sparked 19 fires of varying sizes in Israel, according to local government officials. Fifteen of them occurred in the Eshkol region, which abuts the southern Gaza Strip. The other four occurred in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, which lies to the northeast of the coastal enclave.

In response, the Israeli military conducted an airstrike against a group of Palestinians it said was launching incendiary balloons toward Israel from the southern Gaza Strip, east of the city of Rafah. There, too, no injuries were reported.

After shuttering Kerem Shalom, the army said humanitarian aid, notably food and medicine, would still be allowed into Gaza, but would require special permission from the military liaison, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, to the Palestinians.

The military said the closure would continue so long as Palestinians persist in launching incendiary kites and balloons into Israel.

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