Rocket sirens wailed in Israeli communities in Kfar Aza along the Gaza border in the early hours of Friday morning, with the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) identifying them as not due to rocket fire but likely the result of machine gunfire. No injuries were reported.
Amid the developments, Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi held a security briefing with top commanders, reported The Jerusalem Post.
Kohavi, who is set to lead a senior delegation of Israeli officers to the US on Sunday, ordered the military to be prepared for renewed fighting with Hamas.
"The IDF will continue to destroy terrorist infrastructure throughout Gaza and it views Hamas as being responsible for the attacks that emanate from there," a statement by the IDF said.
Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi is scheduled to meet with American officials on a spate of issues, including Iran’s nuclear program.
“The chief of staff will discuss with his counterparts current shared security challenges, including matters dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat, Iran’s efforts to entrench itself militarily in the Middle East, Hezbollah’s rearmament efforts, the consequences of the threat of precision-guided missiles and joint force build-up,” the IDF stated.
The visit comes amid a fresh spiral of tensions in the region.
In response to arson balloons launched from Gaza into Israel, we struck military compounds and a rocket launch site belonging to Hamas in Gaza.— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) June 17, 2021
The IDF has increased its readiness for various scenarios & will continue to strike Hamas terror targets in Gaza. pic.twitter.com/awnCMTcSD9
The Israel Defence Forces earlier announced they had struck targets in Khan Yunis and Gaza City on 16 June, in response to incendiary balloons launched from Gaza into Israel earlier in the day. The IDF also released a thermal video of the airstrikes.
The arson balloons were reported to have triggered some eight fires in Israeli communities in the Sha'ar HaNegev area and throughout the Eshkol Regional Council area.
The IDF alerted residents of Gaza in advance of their planned attack of several Hamas targets in the Strip, reported N12 news.
Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem was quoted by Shehab as denouncing the Israeli bombing as a "failed attempt" to stop their solidarity with Jerusalem, and as a cover for the "unprecedented state of confusion" after the Israeli government authorised a nationalist "Flag Day" march in Jerusalem.
Tensions spiralled again in the Gaza Strip hours after right-wing Israeli groups marched through Palestinian neighbourhoods in Jerusalem to celebrate the city's capture from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Israeli police cleared the march's path, blasting Palestinian counter-protesters with water hoses and arresting 17 near the Damascus Gate. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called the march a "provocation of our people and an aggression against our Jerusalem and our holy sites."
The latest flare-up comes less than a month after Israel reached a fragile, Egypt-brokered, ceasefire with the Gaza-based Palestinian political and militant group Hamas that ended 11 days of airstrikes and rocket attacks in the worst violence the region had witnessed in years.
Tensions had escalated into rocket and missile strikes following protests and riots by Palestinians in East Jerusalem in anticipation of a move by Israel’s Supreme Court to evict six Palestinian families from the community of Sheikh Jarrah.
The decision of Israeli police to restrict access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound – one of the holiest sites in Islam - prompted Hamas to present Tel Aviv with an ultimatum to withdraw its forces from the Temple Mount and Sheikh Jarrah or face consequences.
Once the ultimatum expired, Hamas began rocket strikes that resulted in Israel launching airstrikes inside Gaza. Over 250 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in Gaza in the exchange of fire between the sides.
The Israeli Defence Forces have since claimed that “200+ terrorists” had been “neutralised”.