Israel hit the Gaza Strip with several air strikes on Saturday night, while rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel, and border clashes resumed on the fence, signalling a distinct escalation in the confrontation between Israeli forces and Gaza-based groups.
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On Sunday morning, Israel announced it would close off Gaza's fishing zone entirely, after closing crossings and halting fuel deliveries. The measure is seen by Israeli authorities as a way to discourage violent action, but critics say it is actually not very efficient in that regard, and amounts to collective punishment in a territory with so little economic activity.
The Israeli strikes hit a Hamas military compound and underground infrastructure belonging to the organization, the Israeli army said, carrying the usual statement that it considered the Gaza-based movement to be responsible over all activities in Gaza. The balloon launches, and corresponding Israeli strikes, have become a daily occurence in the last few days.
No injuries were reported in the Strip, confirmed sources in the Gaza health establishment, adding that the strikes did however cause great panic among children specifically, and damage to several properties.
Alert sirens rang out around the city of Sderot, near the border, around 1 A.M. A military statement confirmed that two rockets had been intercepted by air defense batteries. The municipality of Sderot said that one house had been hit by shrapnel. An Israeli man of 58 was lightly injured by broken glass, a statement by emergency rescue service Magen David Adom said.
Israel Police later said a house near Sderot had taken a direct hit from a rocket. Only property was damaged. This was not confirmed by the IDF directly.
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Israel carried out retaliatory strikes after the rockets fell, this time hitting a Hamas military depot, according to an IDF statement.
Meanwhile, at least five Palestinians were injured as hundreds came out to protest against Israel near the border fence of the Gaza Strip on Saturday night. According to Palestinian sources and the Israeli army, protesters approached the fence and threw explosives at soldiers, who fired on them and used other riot-dispersal means.
Two Palestinians were shot in the lower body by Israeli sharp-shooters, sources confirmed, and were sent for medical treatment. The Israeli military said there were 300 people. At time of writing, the clashes were still ongoing.
The nighttime protests had stopped a few months ago, after Israel and Hamas reached an understanding to calm things down, with a set of conditions. Several factions inside the enclave started offensive action again two months ago, including the launching of incendiary balloons, which has led to Israel striking the Strip several times in response in the last two weeks. The resumption of night protests and activities indicate a further escalation in tensions.
Khalil al-Hayya, a member of the Hamas political wing, said on Saturday night that an Egyptian delegation was to arrive in the Gaza Strip on Saturday night to work toward achieving calm, but there was no date set for the cessation of the renewed protests.
Last week, Haaretz reported that Israel would not allow money from Qatar to enter the Gaza Strip as long as the incendiary balloons continued. Over the past few days, dozens of fires caused by the incendiary balloons have broken out in Israeli fields adjacent to the Strip. Most of the Palestinian operatives launching the balloons are reportedly members of organizations affiliated with Hamas.
Intensive talks were underway last week between Israel, Qatar and Egypt, and via the latter, with Hamas, in an attempt to stop the escalation on the border with Gaza. Qatar is supposed to transfer $30 million to Hamas in Gaza, as it does every month. The Qatari envoy is said not to be keen on visiting Gaza until the atmosphere calms down.