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Israel bombards Gaza for second night following incendiary balloon launches

Israeli army says it retaliated after incendiary balloons launched from Gaza started fires in Israel
General view of Gaza City, on 18 June 2021 (AFP)

Israel bombarded the Gaza Strip overnight on Thursday after incendiary balloons were launched from the territory into Israel, according to the Israeli army and AFP journalists.

Following a first wave of fire balloons which sparked blazes in Israel on Tuesday, the army launched a series of attack on the besieged enclave in the early hours of Wednesday.

As Palestinians continued to launch balloons, a second round of air strikes hit the strip overnight Thursday to Friday.

So far the number of casualties, if any, is unclear.

The fighting threatens a fragile ceasefire established between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers that came into place on 21 May which ended 11 days of violence.

Soon after the Thursday strikes, Hamas opened fire with heavy machines guns towards Israel.

In a statement, the Israeli army said they had "struck military compounds and a rocket launch site" belonging to Hamas, in response to the balloon launches.

They said they hit sites in Gaza City and in Khan Younis, in the south of Gaza. AFP reporters confirmed hearing loud explosions.

The enclave, which has been besieged since 2007, is home to around 2 million people and is one of the most densely-populated regions in the world.

Israeli air strikes on Gaza in May killed 248 Palestinians, including 66 children, while Palestinian rockets killed 13 in Israel, including two children.

A further 29 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, as protests broke out over the eviction of families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and Israeli actions in al-Aqsa Mosque.

The latest attacks on Gaza also mark the first of such actions taken by Israel's new government, a disparate coalition of political parties led by far-right politician Naftali Bennett.

Late on Thursday, Israel army chief Aviv Kohavi issued orders to "increase the IDF's (Israeli army) readiness and preparedness for a variety of scenarios including a resumption of hostilities.

"The IDF will continue to strike military capabilities and infrastructure belonging to the terror organisation, and holds Hamas as responsible for all events transpiring in the Gaza Strip," the Israeli army statement said.