Israeli warplanes strike Gaza, drawing Hamas gunfire

Israeli warplanes strike Gaza, drawing Hamas machine-gun fire
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There were no immediate reports of casualties after Israeli warplanes struck Gaza overnight on Monday, in the heaviest escalation since Israel's deadly May bombing campaign.
Israeli warplanes struck the Gaza Strip overnight on Monday [Getty-file photo]

Israeli warplanes struck targets in Gaza overnight on Monday, drawing machine-gun fire from Hamas in the heaviest escalation since Israel's deadly 11-day bombing campaign in May.

The Israeli military claimed a series of airstrikes in the Gaza Strip overnight hit a Hamas weapons manufacturing site, a tunnel and an underground rocket launch site. The army alleged it struck an additional militant tunnel after Hamas fired machine guns across the border.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The bombing came as ceasefire talks brokered by Egypt, which Gaza rulers Hamas hope will ease Israel's illegal blockade of the Strip, continued to deteriorate. It also threatened to overshadow Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's first meeting as premier with President Joe Biden in Washington.

Over the weekend, Israeli troops fired at hundreds of Palestinians along the fence between besieged Gaza and Israel. At least 10 Palestinians were injured. On Monday, Palestinian activists launched a series of incendiary balloons into Israel, setting off fires in Israeli fields along the Gaza border, Israel's Fire and Rescue Service said.

Palestinians say the balloons are aimed at pressing Israel to ease restrictions on Gaza and allow aid to reach the territory.

The Israeli airstrikes were in response to the incendiary balloons, Tel Aviv's military said.

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Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade over Gaza since Islamist Hamas took control of the territory in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian parliamentary elections. The blockade restricts the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza and is an illegal form of collective punishment. Rafah serves as the primary exit point for Gazans to travel abroad when it is open.

Israel has held up the deliveries of reconstruction materials, which are sorely needed after the devastation of May's bombing. It has demanded the return of the remains of two dead soldiers, as well as two Israeli civilians believed to be alive and being held by Hamas, as a condition for the ceasefire.

On Monday, Egypt announced it was closing its border crossing with Gaza, the main exit point for Gazan travellers, citing difficulties in the ceasefire talks.

More than 250 Palestinians were killed during Israel's May airstrikes against Gaza. Rocket fire from Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas, during the same period killed 13 in Israel.

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Health Ministry said a 15-year-old was killed on Tuesday.

The boy died after being hit by Israeli army fire after Tel Aviv's forces stormed a refugee camp near Nablus.

Ahmad Jibril, who leads the Palestinian Red Crescent's emergency department in Nablus told Palestine's official Wafa news agency Tel Aviv's security fired on the boy as they stormed the area for arrest purposes.

(The New Arab, AP, AFP, Reuters)