Rocket sirens blared throughout the predawn hours of Wednesday morning in the Israeli communities surrounding the Gaza Strip as Palestinians launched over a dozen rockets at southern Israel after the military struck a Hamas vehicle in the center of the coastal enclave.
The alarms rang out in towns and small communities throughout the Eshkol, Sha’ar Hanegev, Sdot Negev and Hof Ashkelon regions, several times from approximately 1:45 a.m. to 4 a.m., sending thousands of Israeli running into bomb shelters.
At least three rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. There were no reports of casualties or damage in Israel. In addition, no rocket impacts were reported inside Israeli communities.
In the hours following the flareup, the army and the relevant regional councils held a “situational assessment” meeting and decided to allow schools to open as usual on Wednesday. No special instructions were given to residents of the area, according to local government officials.
Throughout the day on Tuesday, Palestinians launched incendiary balloons into southern Israel, sparking several fires in the area.
In response, shortly after 1 a.m. on Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces launched a number of strikes in the Gaza Strip. One targeted a car that the army said belonged to a senior Hamas operative involved in the airborne arson attacks. The army said it also used an additional aircraft and a tank to strike two Hamas outposts in the north of the Strip.
Palestinians said the vehicle that was hit belonged to one of the Hamas terror group’s field commanders and was parked in Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp. There were no casualties reported, indicating the car was empty at the time.
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The Israel Defense Forces issued a warning to Hamas after the rocket attacks, saying the group “would pay the price for the terror and the instability.”
In recent weeks, the military has adopted a policy of targeting Hamas positions in response to repeated incendiary kite and balloon attacks from Gaza in an effort to force the group, which rules the coastal enclave, to stop launching the arson devices and to force others in the Strip to abandon the tactic as well.
However, Hamas is attempting to maintain that the near-constant airborne arson attacks, which have burned thousands of acres of Israeli land, do not warrant retaliatory strikes by Israel and therefore accuses Jerusalem of violating the tacit ceasefire between the two sides.
“Bombings will be answered with bombings,” Hamas said after its rocket attacks on Wednesday.
It was the third such exchange between Israel and Hamas in recent weeks. On June 18 and 20, Hamas and its ally the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched similar rocket and mortar attacks at southern Israel after the IDF conducted airstrikes against Hamas positions in response to repeated arson attacks.
On Tuesday, Palestinians said Israeli drones destroyed two cars and an observation post in Gaza that were being used by a group of Palestinians to launch incendiary balloons into southern Israel. The military confirmed that its aircraft conducted three strikes in response to repeated arson attacks from the coastal enclave.
No Palestinian injuries were reported.
The IDF conducted similar airstrikes on Sunday, firing at groups of Gazans launching incendiary kites and balloons into southern Israel. In one case, three people were injured as an IDF drone fired a missile at a cart being used by the group, according to local Palestinian media.
On Monday, a total of 11 fires were caused in southern Israel by airborne arson devices, according to local government officials.
The Israeli military has carried out multiple warning strikes in recent weeks at groups of Gazans preparing to launch incendiary devices toward Israel. The army has said repeatedly that it will act to prevent the launch of the airborne incendiary devices and explosives.
Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched countless kites, balloons and inflated latex condoms bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, into Israeli territory, sparking near-daily fires that have burned thousands of acres of farmland, parks and forests.
Israeli leaders have warned that the military is prepared to take more intense offensive action against the phenomenon.
Israeli leaders have been split on how to respond to those responsible for the airborne arson attacks, with some calling for the IDF to shoot the kite flyers and balloon launchers on sight, while others argue that it would be a step too far.