Israel launches air strikes on Gaza putting fragile ceasefire in jeopardy
Israel launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip early on Wednesday in response to incendiary balloons reportedly launched from the besieged Palestinian enclave, Israel's military said.
Potentially shattering a fragile ceasefire that came into effect last month, the air strikes followed a provocative nationalist march through occupied East Jerusalem's Old City by Jewish nationalists that had drawn threats of action by Hamas, the Palestinian movement that governs Gaza.
The Israeli military said the strikes, which attacked Hamas compounds in Khan Younis and Gaza City, came in response to the launching of the balloons, which reportedly caused 20 fires in open fields near the Gaza border, Haaretz reported.
The Israeli army added that it was "ready for all scenarios, including renewed fighting in the face of continued terrorist acts emanating from Gaza."
A Hamas spokesman, confirming the Israeli attacks, said the Palestinians would continue to pursue their "brave resistance and defend their rights and sacred sites" in Jerusalem.
Hours earlier, thousands of Israelis took part in the so-called "Flag March" which marks the anniversary of Israel's 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem.
Israel, which annexed the city's eastern part in a move that has not won international recognition, regards the entire city as its capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state that would include the West Bank and Gaza.
Tuesday's rally came as tensions remain high over Israel's planned expulsion of Palestinian families from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Ahead of the march, Israeli police forcibly removed dozens of Palestinians from outside the Old City's Damascus Gate. At least 27 Palestinians were wounded as Israeli police fired rubber-coated steel bullets and stun grenades in the surrounding areas.
Hundreds of Jewish nationalists participating in the march were heard chanting "Death to Arabs".
Wednesday's air strikes mark the first major flare-up since a ceasefire on 21 May ended Israel's 11-day assault on the territory, which killed 248 Palestinians, including 66 children.
Twelve people in Israel were also killed by rockets fired from the enclave.