'Israel Carries Out Two Strikes in Gaza Targeting Balloon-launchers'

Israeli military says it struck a terrorist cell that launched firebombs from northern Gaza ■ Since Friday, three Gazans were killed in border clashes ■ One wounded by gunfire as Hamas flotilla tries to cross naval blockade

Incendiary balloon in Gaza, last week.
Khalil Hamra/AP

The Israeli military attacked on Saturday two Palestinian groups of balloon-launchers in Gaza, Palestinian reports said.

The Israeli army confirmed it carried out one of the strikes, saying in a statement that it attacked a terrorist cell that threw firebombs from northern Gaza to Israel. 

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The second attack came several minutes after the first and was carried out by a drone, according to Palestinian reports.The attack reportedly took place east of the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, and targeted a group of Gazan balloon-launchers.No injuries were reported.

Earlier Saturday morning a 40-year-old Palestinian, identified as Said al-Aalul from east of Rafah, succumbed to wounds sustained in clashes in east of Rafah with the Israeli military at the Gaza border, bringing the Palestinian death toll over the weekend to three in total.

Also on Saturday, several Gaza-border communities faced damages caused by incendiary balloons hurled at Israel from the Strip.

A fire broke out earlier Saturday afternoon in the Nir Am reservation, and is suspected to have been triggered by an airborne firebomb. Local firefighting services managed to contain the flames.

In the area of Kibbutz Sufa, electricity company employees took down a flaming kite from a powerline. The kite caused a power shortage in the area. An incendiary balloon found in Kibbutz Ze'elim was neutralized by security forces.

Addressing the different incidents that plagued the south over the weekend, Gadi Yarkoni, the head of the Eshkol Regional Council, said that "in these days, a return to routine [for the residents of Gaza-border communities] means returning to flaming balloons and fires. We're not willing to accept this threat as a legitimate routine. The children of Gaza-border communities deserve a normal life."

The two alleged strikes follows a day of clashes at the Gaza border where three Palestinians were killed and over 300 people wounded, according to Gaza's Health Ministry.

Meanwhile, a Hamas-led flotilla of about 40 boats headed to northern Gaza on Saturday morning, according to a statement released by a national group for breaking the siege on Gaza. There was a report of shooting Saturday evening as one of the boats tried to cross the naval blockade, one person was reportedly wounded by gunfire.

Hostilities between Israel and Gaza escalated since Wednesday when the Israeli military said it struck 150 targets in Gaza in retaliation to some 200 rockets fired from the Strip at Israel. Over 30 rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, though several exploded inside Israel, including in the southern city of Be'er Sheva, located some 40 kilometers from the Strip. This was the first time rockets were fired at the city since the 2014 Gaza war. Eleven people on the Israeli side were reported wounded by rockets fired into Israel from Gaza.  

Gaza's Health Ministry reported that three Palestinians were killed in the attacks, including a pregnant woman, 23, her 18-month-old toddler and a man, who was identified as 30-year-old Ali Alrandur. He is the son of one of the commanders of Hamas' armed wing, Iz al-Din al-Qassam. Six other people were wounded by the strikes.

A foreign diplomat told Haaretz that Israel and Hamas reached a cease-fire late Thursday. According to the diplomat, the cease-fire is not part of a wider agreement being negotiated between the two parties.