The Israeli military shelled the Gaza Strip on Friday morning in response to further rocket fire from Hamas, despite Qatar’s efforts to calm things down after three weeks of near-daily firefights, sources said.
Early Friday morning, Israeli fighter jets and tanks hit Hamas positions in retaliation, the army said, with incendiary balloons that have been increasing since the beginning of the month from the Palestinian enclave to Israel.
Then sirens sounded in towns in southern Israel and the IDF reported rocket fire from Gaza into its territory.
The Islamist movement Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, claimed responsibility for the strikes, saying in a statement that it was a “direct response to the escalation of the Israeli occupation”. And in the process, the air force bombed Gaza again, targeting “other Hamas military targets”, including “weapons manufacturing” sites.
Witnesses in the Gaza Strip reported Israeli strikes near Gaza City and in the center of this enclave of two million people, half of whom live below the poverty line.
In response to the incendiary balloons, which have set off more than 400 fires in Israel according to a compilation of firefighters’ reports, the Jewish state also tightened its blockade of Gaza by closing the Kerem Shalom goods crossing point and halting fuel deliveries to this Palestinian territory, forcing the only power plant in the Gaza Strip to close.
These new exchanges of fire come after the passage this week in Gaza of the emissary of Qatar for this Palestinian territory Mohammed El-Emadi, who had met the local leadership of Hamas there, and had also met Israeli officials in Tel Aviv, according to sources familiar with the matter.
Hamas and Israel, which fought three wars (2008, 2012, 2014), reached a truce agreement last year, reached through the UN, Egypt and Qatar, which did not prevent exchanges of fire, even military escalations.
The agreement provides for monthly financial aid to Gaza from Qatar, but also a series of economic measures – such as the extension of a local industrial zone and the granting of Israeli work permits to Gazans – in order to reduce poverty and stabilize this territory.