Israel carries out airstrikes in Gaza after Palestinians launch incendiary balloons

Ruben Fields
June 16, 2021

It followed a march by Jewish nationalists in occupied East Jerusalem on Tuesday, which had drawn threats from Hamas, the militant group that runs Gaza.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Shtayyeh also cautioned Israel against letting the march go ahead.

Israel mounted airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday - the first since the end of 11 days of cross-border fighting last month - in response to incendiary balloons launched from the Palestinian territory.

Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem in a move that has not won global recognition after capturing the area in a 1967 war, regards the entire city as its capital.

Local firefighters said the incendiary balloons caused around 20 fires in southern Israel.

Police said that officers arrested 17 people suspected of involvement in violence, some of whom threw rocks and attacked police, and that two police officers needed medical treatment.

In a scathing condemnation on Twitter, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said those shouting racist slogans were "a disgrace to the Israeli people", adding: "The fact that there are radicals for whom the Israeli flag represents hatred and racism is abominable and unforgivable".

"I am under the impression that the police are well prepared and that a great effort has been made to maintain the delicate fabric of life, and public safety", Barlev said.

Ahmed Tibi from the Joint List bloc of Arab opposition parties said his faction had twice asked the government to cancel the march because "the only flag legitimate (at Damascus Gate) and in east Jerusalem is the Palestinian flag".

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Israeli forces confronted several Palestinians on Tuesday, scuffling with them or detaining them ahead of the march.

More than a thousand ultranationalist demonstrators bearing Israeli flags poured into Jerusalem's flashpoint Old City on Tuesday in a march that posed a key test to Israel's new government on its second full day in office. But Israeli media said the crowd would walk past the Damascus Gate but not enter the Muslim Quarter. Ben Gvir waved an Israeli flag at the site, in what he said was a personal protest after police banned him from parading through the Muslim Quarter to reach the Temple Mount.

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

According to Palestinian sources, Israel's air force targeted at least one site east of the southern Gaza city of Khan Younes.

Defence Minister Benny Gantz met with the military chief of staff, the police commissioner and other senior security officials.

"We warn of the risky repercussions that may result from the occupying power's intention to allow extremist Israeli settlers to carry out the Flag March in occupied Jerusalem tomorrow", Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Twitter.

Organisers consulted police on the best route for the march that begins at 1430 GMT to avoid friction with Arab residents, the government said.

Wennesland urged all sides to act in a responsible manner and to avoid any activities that might be seen as provocative.

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