Gaza cease-fire threatened after Palestinian fire balloons, Israeli airstrikes

Israeli–Palestinian conflict

(NewsNation Now) — Israeli airstrikes hit militant sites in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday, and Palestinians responded by sending a series of fire-carrying balloons back across the border for a second straight day — further testing the fragile cease-fire that ended last month’s war between Israel and Hamas.

What sparked the latest Israeli-Palestinian violence?

The latest round of violence was prompted by a parade of Israeli ultranationalists through contested east Jerusalem on Tuesday. Palestinians saw the march as a provocation and sent balloons into southern Israel, causing several blazes in parched farmland. Israel then carried out the airstrikes — the first such raids since the May 21 cease-fire ended 11 days of fighting — and more balloons followed.

The airstrikes targeted facilities used by Hamas militants for meetings to plan attacks, the army said. There were no reports of injuries.

What is Israel saying about the airstrikes?

“The Hamas terror organization is responsible for all events transpiring in the Gaza Strip, and will bear the consequences for its actions,” the army said. It added that it was prepared for any scenario, “including a resumption of hostilities.”

How is Hamas responding to the airstrikes?

By Wednesday afternoon, masked Palestinians sent a number of balloons, laden with fuses and flaming rags, into Israel. Several fires were reported.

“The problem with the Middle East is that a little spark can always explode into a brush fire overnight,” former deputy assistant secretary of state Joel Rubin said.

What will happen next in the Gaza conflict?

An Egyptian security official said his government has been in “direct and around-the-clock” contacts with Israeli officials and the Gaza rulers to keep the cease-fire and to urge them to refrain from provocative acts.

The official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was discussing behind-the-scenes diplomacy, said the U.S. administration has also been in touch with Israel as part of the efforts.

The two sides seem to agree “not to escalate to the tipping point,” he said. “And we do every effort to prevent this.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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