Israel launched airstrikes against alleged Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip for the fourth night in a row late Friday in response to a spate of attacks using balloon-borne arson and explosive devices carried by the wind from the Strip into Israel in recent days.
The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that combat helicopters and tanks hit a number of terror targets belonging to Hamas, including sites used by its naval forces, underground infrastructure and observation posts.
Makeshift firebombs attached to bunches of balloons or kites ignited over 100 fires in Israel in the past week, setting alight agricultural fields and brush. Officials said most were small fires, but some caused damage.
Friday night’s attack came a day after Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to normalize ties in a landmark US-brokered deal, ratcheting up tensions in the West Bank and Gaza.
The agreement infuriated the Palestinian leadership, who called it a “betrayal” of their cause, including their claim to Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
The Haaretz daily reported Friday that Israel communicated that it won’t allow the transfer of a monthly sum of $30 million from Qatar to Gaza unless the spate of incendiary balloon attacks stops.
In response to the attacks, Israel has already closed its cargo crossing with the Strip, with exceptions made for food and humanitarian aid, and also reduced the territory’s permitted coastal fishing zone.
Gaza’s population of between 1.8 and 2 million people is confined to a 360-square-kilometre strip of land. The high population density, the economic blockade (which restricts the movement of people and goods into and out of the territory), high levels of poverty and insufficient services make it exceptionally difficult for people to earn a living or access quality healthcare, water and education.
The Palestinians refer to Gaza as the biggest open prison in the world.
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