Masked Palestinian supporters of the Islamic Jihad movement preparing incendiary balloons. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Ceasefire ends as Israel responds to incendiary balloons with air strikes on Gaza

A fragile ceasefire has ended after Israel launched air strikes on the Gaza Strip in response to militants in the Palestinian territory sending incendiary balloons into southern Israel.

The air strikes and balloons early Wednesday morning marked the first major flare-up between Israel and Gaza since the May 21 ceasefire ended 11 days of heavy fighting that killed 260 Palestinians, according to Gaza authorities, and 13 people in Israel, the police and army there said.

According to Palestinian sources, Israel’s air force targeted at least one site east of the southern Gaza city of Khan Younes.

An AFP photojournalist in Khan Younes saw the explosions.

The Israeli Defence Force said that in response to the “arson balloons”, its “fighter jets struck military compounds belonging to the Hamas terror organisation.” It added that “facilities and meeting sites for terror operatives” in Khan Younes were targeted.

Around 1,000 apartments, offices and shops were destroyed in the latest round of fighting in May in Gaza, an impoverished enclave of two million controlled by the Hamas Islamist group.

Wednesday’s strikes were Israel’s first against Gaza since a new coalition government took over on Sunday night, ousting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after 12 years in power.

The incendiary balloons, which local firefighters said caused around 20 fires in southern Israel, were sent as more than a thousand ultranationalist demonstrators bearing Israeli flags poured into Jerusalem’s flashpoint Old City on Tuesday.

Read the report in The Australian (AFP).