Israel strikes Gaza after Palestinians in besieged strip launch incendiary balloons toward Israel

Julia Frankel

AP  /  September 22, 2023

JERUSALEM – Israel carried out a series of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip late on Friday after Palestinian activists launched incendiary balloons into Israel as a week of violence along the volatile frontier intensified.

The rising tensions along Israel’s front with Gaza came as fighting in the occupied West Bank surged — to levels unseen in two decades. In the latest bloodshed Friday, the Israeli army killed a Palestinian militant in the northern West Bank.

Palestinian activists have been protesting for the past week next to the fence separating Gaza and Israel. The protests have turned violent, with demonstrators hurling explosives toward Israeli troops, and soldiers responding with tear gas and live fire.

For the first time in the current round of unrest, Palestinian protesters on Friday launched balloons into Israel, blackening large patches of vegetation on the other side of the border. Palestinian health officials said Israeli fire wounded 28 Palestinians during protests along the barrier. Hamas, the Islamic militant group ruling Gaza since 2007, says youths have organized the protests in response to Israeli provocations.

Unrest over the past week has escalated tensions and prompted Israel to bar entry to thousands of Palestinian laborers from the impoverished enclave.

Palestinians in Gaza have launched balloons in the past to protest an an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed on the territory since 2007. The balloons have caused fires and scorched Israeli farmland, prompting Israel on several occasions to use fighter jets to strike at Hamas.

The evening airstrikes struck three military posts belonging to Hamas, the army said. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and engaged in numerous smaller battles since Hamas took over the territory.

Palestinian protesters at the border fence on Friday said they were demonstrating against recent Jewish visits to a disputed holy site in the Old City of Jerusalem. Jews revere the hilltop compound as the Temple Mount, home to the biblical Jewish Temples. Today, it is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Under longstanding arrangements, Jews are allowed to visit the site, but not to pray there. But growing numbers of visits — along with scenes of some Jews quietly praying — have raised Palestinian fears that Israel is plotting to divide or take over the site. Israel says it is committed to the longstanding status quo.

Earlier Friday, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian militant in the northern West Bank, Palestinian authorities said. The Islamic Jihad militant group claimed the man as its fighter and identified him as 18-year-old Abdallah Abu Hasan.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said Hasan was shot in the abdomen by Israeli forces early Friday morning in a Palestinian village north of the West Bank city of Jenin.

The Israeli army said the shooting occurred during a nighttime raid in Kafr Dan, a town near the militant stronghold of Jenin. It said Palestinians fired at soldiers and threw explosives. Soldiers shot back, hitting Hasan.

The operation was the most recent in a series of stepped-up raids Israel has been staging in Palestinian areas of the West Bank. Israel claims such raids root out militancy and thwart future attacks.

But Palestinians say the raids entrench Israel’s 56-year occupation over the West Bank. The raids, which have been escalated over the past year and a half,also show little sign of slowing the fighting.

Some 190 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since the start of the year, according to a tally by The Associated Press. Israel says most of those killed have been militants, but youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations have also been killed.

At least 31 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis since the beginning of 2023.

Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek those territories for their hoped-for independent state.