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Huge explosions rock Gaza as Israeli warplanes launch airstrikes in response to Hamas firebomb balloons just three weeks after ceasefire was agreed

 Israeli aircraft have launched fresh airstrikes against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, bringing an end to the brief ceasefire after the latest devastating conflict in the region.

Israel's military said the latest explosions were a response to the launching of incendiary balloons that caused fires in fields in southern Israel.

In a statement, the IDF military said that it was 'ready for all scenarios, including renewed fighting in the face of continued terrorist acts emanating from Gaza'.

Explosions light-up the night sky above buildings in Gaza City as Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave

Explosions light-up the night sky above buildings in Gaza City as Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave

Israel's military said the explosions were a response to the launching of incendiary balloons that caused fires in fields in southern Israel

Israel's military said the explosions were a response to the launching of incendiary balloons that caused fires in fields in southern Israel

Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave at Khan Yunis, ending the brief ceasefire

Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave at Khan Yunis, ending the brief ceasefire 

Israel's new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, had said in the past that the Israeli government should not tolerate incendiary balloons

Israel's new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, had said in the past that the Israeli government should not tolerate incendiary balloons

Pictured: A Palestinian man sits on the rubble of a building destroyed by Israeli air strikes last month in Gaza City on June 15, 2021

Pictured: A Palestinian man sits on the rubble of a building destroyed by Israeli air strikes last month in Gaza City on June 15, 2021

The attacks, following an Israeli nationalist march in East Jerusalem that angered Palestinians, were the first launched by Israel and Gaza militants since an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire ended 11 days of cross-border fighting last month.

The truce that halted fighting between Israel and Gaza militants did not immediately appear to be threatened by the flare-up, with the overnight Israeli airstrikes giving way to calm by morning.

The Israeli Defence Force said that in response to the 'arson balloons', its 'fighter jets struck military compounds belonging to the Hamas terror organisation'.

It added that 'facilities and meeting sites for terror operatives' in Khan Yunis were targeted.

There were no reports of casualties on either side. 


Israel's new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, had said in the past that the Israeli government should not tolerate incendiary balloons, and must retaliate as if Hamas had fired rockets into Israel. 

Hamas had threatened to take action in response to an Israeli nationalist march on Tuesday through East Jerusalem.

Thousands of Israeli far-right nationalists chanted 'Death to Arabs' as they marched in a flag-waving procession through East Jerusalem, after Palestinians called for a 'Day of Rage' and condemned the event.


The Israeli Defence Force published aerial footage of the latest airstrikes against 'military positions' in Gaza

The Israeli Defence Force published aerial footage of the latest airstrikes against 'military positions' in Gaza

In a statement, the military said that it was 'ready for all scenarios, including renewed fighting in the face of continued terrorist acts emanating from Gaza'

In a statement, the military said that it was 'ready for all scenarios, including renewed fighting in the face of continued terrorist acts emanating from Gaza'

The violence poses an early test for the government of new Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, whose patchwork coalition came to power on Sunday on a pledge to focus on socioeconomic issues and avoid sensitive policy choices towards the Palestinians.

But the flare-up could prove challenging for Israel's new government, which represents a cross section of views on the ongoing conflict.

The strikes, the military said, came in response to the launching of the balloons, which the Israeli fire brigade reported caused 20 blazes in open fields in communities near the Gaza border.

A Hamas spokesman, confirming the Israeli attacks, said Palestinians would continue to pursue their 'brave resistance and defend their rights and sacred sites' in Jerusalem.

But analysts suggested Hamas refrained from firing rockets around the march and after the Israeli strikes to avoid an escalation in Gaza, which was devastated by May's aerial bombardment.

'It (the ceasefire) is very fragile. The current calm may give the Egyptians a chance to try and cement it,' said Talal Okal, an analyst in Gaza.

Israel's Army Radio reported that Israel had informed Egyptian mediators that direct Hamas involvement in the balloon launch would imperil long-term truce talks. Israeli officials did not immediately confirm the report. 

Hours earlier, thousands of flag-waving Israelis congregated around the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem's Old City before heading to Judaism's holy Western Wall, drawing Palestinian anger and condemnation.

Masked Palestinian supporters of the Islamic Jihad movement prepare incendiary balloons east of Gaza city, to launch across the border fence towards Israel

Masked Palestinian supporters of the Islamic Jihad movement prepare incendiary balloons east of Gaza city, to launch across the border fence towards Israel

The strikes, the military said, came in response to the launching of the balloons, which the Israeli fire brigade reported caused 20 blazes in open fields in communities near the Gaza border

The strikes, the military said, came in response to the launching of the balloons, which the Israeli fire brigade reported caused 20 blazes in open fields in communities near the Gaza border

Prior to Tuesday's march, Israel beefed up its deployment of the Iron Dome anti-missile system in anticipation of possible rocket attacks from Gaza

Prior to Tuesday's march, Israel beefed up its deployment of the Iron Dome anti-missile system in anticipation of possible rocket attacks from Gaza

A burned field is seen after Palestinians in Gaza sent incendiary balloons over the border between Gaza and Israel

A burned field is seen after Palestinians in Gaza sent incendiary balloons over the border between Gaza and Israel

Israel, which occupied East Jerusalem in a 1967 war and later annexed it in a move that has not won international recognition, regards the entire city as its capital.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state that would include the West Bank and Gaza.

Prior to Tuesday's march, Israel beefed up its deployment of the Iron Dome anti-missile system in anticipation of possible rocket attacks from Gaza.

But as the marchers began to disperse after nightfall in Jerusalem, there was no sign of rocket fire from the enclave.

The procession was originally scheduled for May 10 as part of 'Jerusalem Day' festivities that celebrate Israel's capture of East Jerusalem.

At the last minute, that march was diverted away from the Damascus Gate and the Old City's Muslim Quarter, but the move was not enough to dissuade Hamas from firing rockets towards Jerusalem, attacks that set off last month's round of fighting.

Pictured: A Palestinian protester throws a burning projectile towards Israeli forces during a demonstration east of Gaza City by the border with Israel, on June 15, 2021

Pictured: A Palestinian protester throws a burning projectile towards Israeli forces during a demonstration east of Gaza City by the border with Israel, on June 15, 2021

Palestinian protesters lift national flags as they burn tyres during a demonstration east of Gaza City by the border with Israel, on June 15, 2021

Palestinian protesters lift national flags as they burn tyres during a demonstration east of Gaza City by the border with Israel, on June 15, 2021

Pictured: A Palestinian demonstrator returns a tear gas canister fired by Israeli forces during a demonstration near the Jewish settlement of Beit El near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, on June 15, 2021

Pictured: A Palestinian demonstrator returns a tear gas canister fired by Israeli forces during a demonstration near the Jewish settlement of Beit El near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, on June 15, 2021

The US and UN had called for restraint before the march, which Bennett's new administration had authorised.

With tensions high, Israeli police were deployed in heavy numbers, blocking roads and firing stun grenades and foam-tipped bullets to remove Palestinians from the main route.

Medics said 33 Palestinians were wounded and police said two officers were injured and 17 people arrested.

The demonstration triggered protests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and prompted rebukes and warnings from Israel's allies.

The so-called March of the Flags celebrates the anniversary of the city's 'reunification' after Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967 and annexed it, a move not recognised by most of the international community.

Tuesday's demonstration was originally scheduled for early May but cancelled twice amid police opposition and threats from Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Palestinian enclave of Gaza.

Throngs of mostly young religious men sang, danced and waved flags at the Damascus Gate entrance to the Old City, that was cleared of its usual Palestinian crowds.

Some chanted 'Death to Arabs' before others quieted them. 

Israeli security officers scuffle with a Palestinian man as ultranationalists take part in the March of the Flags near Jerusalem's Old City, on June 15, 2021

Israeli security officers scuffle with a Palestinian man as ultranationalists take part in the March of the Flags near Jerusalem's Old City, on June 15, 2021

Israel's new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, had said in the past that the Israeli government should not tolerate incendiary balloons, and must retaliate as if Hamas had fired rockets into Israel

Israel's new prime minister, Naftali Bennett, had said in the past that the Israeli government should not tolerate incendiary balloons, and must retaliate as if Hamas had fired rockets into Israel

The march comes just two days after Netanyahu was ousted after 12 straight years in power, toppled by an ideologically divided coalition including, for the first time in Israel's history, an Arab party.

Bennett is himself a Jewish nationalist but Netanyahu's allies accused the new premier of treachery for allying with Arabs and the left.

Some demonstrators on Tuesday carried signs reading 'Bennett the liar'.

Yair Lapid, the architect of the new government, tweeted he believed the march had to be allowed but that 'it's inconceivable how you can hold an Israeli flag and shout, 'Death to Arabs' at the same time.'

Mansour Abbas, whose four-seat Raam Islamic party was vital to the coalition, called Tuesday's march a 'provocation' that should have been cancelled.   

The violence is the first flare-up between Israel and Palestinian militants since a ceasefire came into place in May, ending 11 days of heavy fighting that killed 260 Palestinians including some fighters, the Gaza authorities said.

In Israel, 13 people were killed, including a soldier, by rockets and missiles fired from Gaza, the police and army said.

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