Israel attacks Hamas targets after Gaza rocket lands in open terrain
MAHMUD HAMS (AFP)
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said Saturday that a combat helicopter attacked a Hamas position in the southern Gaza Strip in response to earlier rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave.
An IDF spokesperson said that a rocket fired from the Strip landed in open terrain in southern Israel before dawn on Saturday, causing no injury or damage to property.
The army said that rocket alert sirens did not sound in the region as the projectile was tracked to land in open area.
In retaliation, IDF attacked a Hamas position in southern Gaza. There were no reports of any casualties as a result of the strike.
The exchange was the first such incident in over a month.
Hours earlier, one Palestinian was killed and five more were injured as clashes erupted with the Israeli forces during a fresh round of protests on the border, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
"Karam Mohammed Numan Fayyad, 26, died of his wounds sustained by Israeli fire in the evening east of Khan Younis," the health ministry spokesman said in a statement.
Despite cold weather and rain, thousands of Palestinians amassed at various flash points on the border as Gazan militant factions threatened to escalate violence.
The IDF said an estimated 4,000 Palestinians took part in this week's riots, hurling rocks and explosive devices across the security fence towards soldiers. The projectiles failed to reach the troops and there were no Israeli injuries reported.
Turnout was significantly less than last Friday, when some 8,000 protesters participated in violent protests resulting in the deaths of four Palestinians.
Earlier Friday, Israeli police sappers were called to investigate the discovery of a balloon suspected to be rigged with incendiary materials near a kindergarten in the Sdot Negev Regional Council, adjacent to the volatile Gaza border.
The launching of kites and balloons affixed with incendiary devices had become a ubiquitous tactic of Gaza border protests that have raged weekly since March 30.
Though Hamas maintains that the protests this Friday entered their 40th consecutive week, it was only the seventh week in a row that Gazans have flocked to the border following a ceasefire agreement reached in November.
The renewed protests were held under the same "Great March of Return" banner as weekly protests organized by Hamas since March 30.
Since the protests began, at least 239 Palestinians, including 50 members of Hamas, mostly by Israeli fire during border clashes but also by air and tank strikes.
Two Israeli soldiers have been killed over the same period.
With early elections on the horizon in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly asked Egypt to firm up a long-term ceasefire with Gaza and work to avoid escalation in the south.
The premier's electoral appeal has rested in large part on his security credentials, but his record has come under intense scrutiny since he accepted the controversial November ceasefire deal to end the most serious escalation with Gazan militants since a 2014 war.
The truce led Avigdor Liberman to resign as defense minister, throwing the government into turmoil, and political opponents are likely to seek to erode Netanyahu's "Mr. Security" reputation in what is sure to be a tumultuous election campaign.
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