(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)
Tensions flared on Israel’s border with Gaza early Wednesday morning as the IDF carried out a second round of overnight airstrikes on Hamas targets in response to a barrage of rockets fired from the Strip towards Israeli territory.
The IDF said fighter jets struck eight further “terror targets” on three separate Hamas military bases in the south of the Gaza Strip, in addition to several other sites that were targeted earlier in the night.
In total, 18 rockets were fired towards Israeli territory in a number of separate incidents, the army said. Of those, four rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system while an unspecified number fell in Israeli territory.
There were no immediate reports of injuries on either side of the border.
Earlier, Palestinians fired five rockets at southern Israel after Israeli aircraft hit Hamas targets in the south of the coastal enclave in response to numerous arson attacks launched across the border by Palestinians, the military said.
The overnight incidents mirror several rounds of rocket fire and IDF strikes on Monday in which Israeli aircraft bombed Hamas positions in the southern Gaza Strip after a group of Palestinians launched incendiary balloons at southern Israel.
Following those strikes, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned that Israel would not allow Palestinian terror groups to continue launching incendiary devices into Israeli territory, the likes of which have caused hundreds of brush fires and burned thousands of acres of land in recent months.
“If anyone thinks it will be possible to continue with the daily kites and fires, they are wrong,” Liberman said during a tour of Israel Aerospace Industries, the country’s primary aerospace manufacturer.
The Monday rockets were the first to be fired at Israel in over two weeks, breaking a tacit ceasefire that has largely held since a day-long flareup in late May.
Before the rocket attack, Israeli fighter jets carried out strikes on three military compounds and one weapons manufacturing plant in northern Gaza belonging to the Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip, the Israel Defense Forces said.
The army said it hit a total of nine targets spread out between the three Hamas facilities, in response to flammable and explosive-laden kites and balloons launched from Gaza that have wreaked havoc in Israel over the past several weeks.
“The attack was carried out in response to the launching of incendiary and explosive kites and balloons at Israeli territory. This is terrorist activity that endangers the lives of southern residents and has damaged large amounts of land,” the military said.
The army warned that it had the “intelligence knowledge and operational capability” necessary to conduct further strikes in Gaza if the balloon and kite attacks did not stop.
The airstrikes on Hamas facilities appeared to be a new tactic by the military to deter Palestinians from flying the airborne arson devices into Israel, after its previous attempts to do so by firing warning shots at kite-flyers failed to yield results.
The Palestinian rocket fire appeared to come in response to the airstrikes.
The projectiles shot at Israel triggered sirens in the Hof Ashkelon region and the city of Ashkelon’s industrial area, sending thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters. The alarms were triggered in two waves, first at 4:40 a.m. and then again shortly after 5 a.m.
The Iron Dome missile defense system did not appear to have been activated, indicating the two incoming rockets that cleared the border struck open fields, where there was no risk to life and thus no need to intercept them.
Israel’s airstrikes in the Strip and the subsequent Palestinian rocket fire followed a day of airborne arson attacks by Gazans, who launched dozens of balloons laden with incendiary devices and explosives at southern Israel, sparking at least 20 fires, some of them large.