Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett ordered new airstrikes in the Gaza Strip overnight, after incendiary balloons launched by Palestinian Hamas militants provided a first test for the new prime minister.
The Hamas balloons arrived after the Bennett government allowed right-wing settlers to march towards the Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem on Tuesday to celebrate Israel’s conquest of the holy city in the 1967 war. balloons rose as social media broadcast footage of Israeli police on horseback hitting young Palestinians and throwing stun grenades to keep them hundreds of meters away from right-wing settlers.
The three-day-old government retaliation strikes were the first such attacks since an 11-day airstrike last month. The IDF said on Wednesday it hit “military complexes and assembly sites” overnight. There were no casualties.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and whose balloons set off small fires near the border, did not respond with rockets. This suggested that the ceasefire struck by Egypt, the United States and the United Nations that ended the conflict in May was holding on.
But the outbreak underscored the challenges Bennett inherited from ousted prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His predecessor had endorsed a “silence for silence” policy with Hamas, responding to attacks with limited airstrikes. That changed when the militants’ rockets reached the depths of Israel on May 10, triggering the recent conflict.
As Education Minister in a previous government, Bennett, an ultra-nationalist tech millionaire, had demanded that the army shoot the Palestinians lighting incendiary balloons. The balloons, carried to Israel by the sea breeze, set off fires in Israeli agricultural areas surrounding the Gaza Strip.
But Bennett now heads an eight-party coalition, spanning far right to left and relying on votes from an Arab Islamist party that backs his government. He is also under pressure from the right to prove his ultra-nationalist credentials with a harsher response and to signal his independence from the Islamist Arab party that backs his government.
“For the first time in Israel, we have a minority Zionist government – it depends on its existence of a party that is part of the Muslim Brotherhood just like Hamas,” said retired Brigadier General Amir Avivi, who leads Habithonistim, a group of 2,000 people. former Israeli generals, officers and Mossad agents pushing for stronger military action. “If they are the ones who decide whether this government will exist or not, they have enormous political power – and we are concerned for Israel’s national security.
There is no indication that Bennett’s decision to attack was influenced by his coalition partners, and the limited airstrikes in response to the balloons are part of an established “escalation ladder” that the IDF has followed. for years.
Tuesday’s attacks came after right-wing settlers marched, some shouting “Death to the Arabs” and “Let your cities burn,” from West Jerusalem to the Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem. The flag march was called off on May 10, after weeks of clashes between Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Israeli police and just before Hamas fired a series of rockets at Jerusalem to warn Israel to end to a series of planned expulsions of Arabs and the march. This theft sparked the recent conflict.
The rescheduled march had been diverted to avoid the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City, a political decision by the Bennett government and a concession to its coalition allies. A smaller number of settlers were allowed to approach the old city while the Damascus Gate itself was closed to prevent them from entering the deserted Muslim Quarter.
For Netanyahu’s allies, the decision to change the route was a failure for the Bennett government. “Personally, I don’t think we should cancel something because of threats from terrorists – it’s not like we tell anyone in Gaza when and where to walk,” said Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, deputy mayor of Jerusalem. , which defended more Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem.
“It’s all ours,” said Orly Hasid, 50, who had traveled from the coast to join the march. “We won the war, so we own this city – Muslims should remember that. “