GAZA: Israeli tanks and warplanes struck Hamas positions in Gaza on Friday and Hamas forces fired half-a-dozen rockets toward southern Israel, as a three-week-old flare-up showed no let-up despite international mediation efforts, the military said.
There were no reports of casualties on either side.
Warning sirens sounded before dawn in Israeli communities near the border as the pre-dawn airstrikes and shelling prompted Hamas to launch a salvo of six rockets in retaliation.
Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, said the rockets were a “direct response to the escalation by the Israeli occupier.”
Israel’s military said it struck underground infrastructure and a military post belonging to Hamas overnight in response to incendiary balloons launched from the Palestinian enclave that have burned Israeli farmland.
Gaza militants then fired six rockets toward Israel, the military said, drawing a second round of Israeli strikes which hit a Hamas armed training camp.
An Israeli military spokesman said he did not have any information on where the Gaza rockets landed, but that none of them were intercepted by its Iron Dome system.
Hamas has been trying to pressure Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza and allow more investment, in part by letting Palestinians launch dozens of helium balloons carrying incendiary material toward southern Israel in recent weeks. But so far Israel’s response has been to tighten the blockade.
The Israelis are reported to have said they are willing to resume fuel deliveries for the power plant and ease their blockade if there is an end to the fire balloons.
The fire bombs, crude devices fitted to balloons, inflated condoms or plastic bags, have triggered more than 400 blazes in southern Israel, according to fire brigade figures.
Mediators from the UN, Egypt and Qatar have been working to restore calm. An Egyptian delegation has been shuttling between the two sides to try to broker a renewal of the truce.
Israel has bombed Gaza almost daily since Aug. 6, for the past two weeks, saying it would not tolerate the balloons.
With tension high, Israel has closed its only commercial crossing with Gaza, banned sea access and halted fuel imports into the coastal strip, leading to its only power plant shutting down last week.
Health officials have voiced concern that the power plant shutdown could aggravate a novel coronavirus outbreak in impoverished Gaza, which is home to 2 million Palestinians.
Financial aid for the impoverished territory from gas-rich Qatar has been a major component of the latest truce first agreed upon in November 2018 and renewed several times since.
But Israel also undertook other measures to alleviate unemployment of more than 50 percent in the territory of some 2 million people.
Disagreements over their implementation have fueled repeated flare-ups on the border.
Such flare-ups escalated into major conflicts in 2008, 2012 and 2014, and mediators have been striving to prevent a new war.