A projectile was fired from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel on Thursday afternoon, causing neither damage nor injury, shortly after a clash at the volatile border.
In response, an IDF tank shelled a nearby Hamas observation post, east of the city of Rafah, the army said.
The projectile attack set off sirens throughout the Eshkol region, east of Gaza, at 4:45 p.m., sending thousands of residents scrambling to bomb shelters, as they have repeatedly in recent weeks.
Around the same time, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman held a “situational assessment” meeting about the current tensions in the Gaza Strip with members of the Israeli security establishment this afternoon, his office said.
The projectile landed in an open field next to a cowshed in one of the communities of the largely agrarian Eshkol region, a spokesperson for the local government said. It was not immediately clear if it was a rocket or a mortar shell.
“It landed outside of the community. There was no damage to the cowshed,” the Eshkol spokesperson said.
Approximately an hour and a half earlier, the Israel Defense Forces carried out an airstrike on a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons into Israel from the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday, reportedly killing one person and wounding two others.
Apparently in response, Palestinians in southern Gaza launched two mortar shells at IDF troops stationed near the border. No soldiers were injured in the strike, the army said.
In a statement, the IDF said the Palestinians who were targeted in the initial airstrike were members of the Hamas terrorist organization, which rules the Strip.
“Our aircraft carried out an attack on a terror cell launching incendiary balloons near to a Hamas post in southern Gaza,” the army said, adding that it would continue to step up its campaign against the balloon and kite launchers.
The Hamas-run Health ministry said 22-year-old Abdel Karim Radwan was killed and two others were injured by the Israeli drone strike in the Khan Younis area. Hamas confirmed he was a member of its military wing.
It is unclear what Radwan was doing when the Israeli army carried out the airstrike in Gaza.
Over the last few months, Palestinians in Gaza have flown thousands of kites and balloons attached to incendiary devices that have set off hundreds of fires in farm lands and nature reserves along the border with Gaza, destroying tens of thousands of acres.
There were at least 11 fires caused in Israel on Thursday by the arson devices, according to Israeli officials.
Domestic pressure on the military to halt the burning flying objects has intensified, leading to Israel carrying out airstrikes and increasing the possibility that violence could escalate into a full-blown war.
The defense minister’s meeting on Thursday was attended by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot; the head of Military Intelligence, Maj. Gen. Tamir Hyman; the head of the IDF Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Herzl Halevi; the head of IDF Operations, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva; Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon; and representatives from the Shin Bet security service, according to Liberman’s office.
The defense minister’s office would not disclose what, if any, decisions were made during the meeting.
Thursday’s strike came a day after Hamas reportedly agreed to gradually decrease the number of incendiary kites and balloons being launched into Israel “to prevent dragging Gaza into a war.” The Palestinian Al-Quds Daily quoted sources who said the cross-border arson attacks could stop completely by next week.
On Monday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced that Israel would further limit the flow of goods into the Gaza Strip in response to the continued airborne kite and balloon attacks emanating from the coastal enclave.
Between Tuesday and Sunday, no fuel will enter Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing, but the entry of food and medicine approved by Israel will continue, Liberman’s office said. Additionally, Gaza fishermen will only be allowed to venture three kilometers (1.8 miles) into the Mediterranean Sea, down from the current six kilometers (3.7 miles), the defense minister’s office added.
The restrictions were toughened due to “continued terror attempts” by Hamas, Liberman’s office said, accusing the terror group of enabling, encouraging and participating in flying the incendiary devices and bombs into Israel.
The restrictions join those imposed by Israel last week, when it halted exports of Gazan produce and stopped most goods from entering the Strip. The military said the closure would continue as long as Palestinians persist in launching incendiary kites and balloons into Israel.
Kerem Shalom is the only cargo crossing between Gaza and Israel. The Strip has been subject to a strict blockade for the past 11 years that Israel says is necessary to prevent terrorist groups from bringing weapons into the Strip. Egypt also tightly controls the Rafah border crossing.
Until the recent restrictions, hundreds of trucks a day brought goods from Israeli ports through the Kerem Shalom crossing and into the Gaza Strip.