JERUSALEM – Tensions between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas flared again after Hamas launched incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip into Israel, a month after a cease-fire. Hamas said the balloons were meant to protest an Israeli march in east Jerusalem.
The march and the Israeli airstrikes that followed came just days after new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet took office.
The Israeli army launched a series of airstrikes on the Gaza Strip early Wednesday after Hamas in Gaza launched dozens of incendiary balloons that sparked fires throughout southern Israel.
There were no reports of casualties in either the airstrikes or the fires. They were the first clashes between Israel and the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza since a cease-fire ended an 11-day conflict that left almost 300 people dead, most of them Palestinians.
The Israeli army said it had struck military compounds belonging to Hamas, which it said were used as facilities and meeting sites. Hamas had threatened revenge if Israel went ahead with a demonstration by thousands of hardline Israelis, who marched through the Old City of Jerusalem waving flags.
The march is held every year to mark what Israelis see as the reunification of Jerusalem. Palestinians see it as the loss of their future capital in east Jerusalem. This year, it was interrupted when Hamas launched dozens of rockets at Israel, including at Jerusalem, which along with clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli police, sparked last month’s conflict.
This time, Israeli police ordered the march route changed to avoid the Muslim quarter. But the marchers were allowed to dance with their flags at the Damascus Gate, which last month was the scene of clashes.
Closing Palestinian Businesses
About 2,000 police were on hand to prevent violence, and police recommended that hundreds of Palestinian businesses close during the march. Israeli media reports said Israel also rerouted incoming flights, afraid that Hamas might try to fire missiles at airliners.
The march was a test for the new Israeli government of Naftali Bennet, and some in Israel said the march should be canceled or moved away from the Old City. Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan Nahoum said the route had been modified but she was glad it had not been cancelled.
Israelis shout death to the Arabs
“I personally don’t believe that we should be canceling something that’s been going on for years because of threats from terrorists. We’re not telling anybody in Gaza when to march, they march when they want, so I don’t see why we have to change what is essentially a celebration of the reunification of our city from 1967,” Nahoum said.
During the march young Israelis shouted death to the Arabs, and there were clashes between police and Palestinian demonstrators. More than 30 Palestinians were injured.
New Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid criticized the demonstrators, saying the chants were a disgrace.