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Israeli airstrikes target Gaza after arson balloons launched

Explosions lit-up the night sky at Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, as Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave, early on June 16, 2021.
Explosions lit-up the night sky at Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, as Israeli forces shell the Palestinian enclave, early on June 16, 2021.SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli airstrikes struck Gaza in the early hours of Wednesday in retaliation for incendiary balloons that crossed into Israel from Hamas-controlled territory - an exchange that highlights a fragile cease-fire in the region.

Israeli jets struck military compounds allegedly belonging to Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, according to an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) statement.

Hamas, the IDF said, "is responsible for all events transpiring in the Gaza Strip, and will bear the consequences for its actions." The IDF warned that the forces are "prepared for any scenario, including a resumption of hostilities."

There were no immediate reports of casualties from the airstrike.

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Israel and Hamas have been in a cease-fire since May 21, an agreement that followed 11 days of violence that left more than 240 Gazans - including 65 children - and 12 residents of Israel, dead.

The launching of balloons came as hundreds of ultranationalist demonstrators bearing Israeli flags marched into Jerusalem's Old City on Tuesday, with some youths chanting "Death to Arabs!" according to the Associated Press.

The "March of the Flags" that celebrated Israel's capture of east Jerusalem in 1967 prompted Hamas to call on Palestinians to "resist" the parade, according to the Associated Press.

"The Zionist bombing of the Gaza Strip is a failed attempt to stop our people's solidarity and resistance with the Holy City, and to cover up the unprecedented state of confusion for the Zionist establishment in organizing the so-called 'flags march,'" said Hazim Qasem, a Hamas spokesman. "Our people and their valiant resistance will continue to defend our rights and sanctities until the occupier is expelled from our entire land."

The airstrikes on Gaza came hours after IDF generals met to discuss the last conflict.

"The commanders discussed the learning processes generated during the recent campaign, and IDF operational readiness to re-engage the campaign if necessary," according to an IDF news release.

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"The situation in the Palestinian arena is volatile and we are preparing for the possibility of resumed hostilities," said IDF Chief of General Staff Aviv Kochavi.

The escalation also posed a significant challenge to the new government three days after Israel's parliament replaced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in power for 12 years, with Naftali Bennett.

The Palestinian Authority mission to the United Nations condemned Israel's strikes on Twitter.

"After today's provocative March of Israeli flags in occupied #Jerusalem, Israel is NOW bombing #Gaza (1:00 am local #Palestine time)," the comment read. "It appears that Israeli once again has violated international law and broken the terms of the 'ceasefire'."

Israel's air force targeted at least one site east of the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, according to the IDF.

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The Washington Post’s Hazem Balousha in Gaza and Nick Parker in Washington contributed to this report.