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Israel Hits Hamas Targets With The 1st Airstrikes Since Cease-Fire Deal

Jewish ultranationalists take part in a flag-waving march Tuesday next to the Damascus Gate, outside Jerusalem's Old City.
Mahmoud Illean
Jewish ultranationalists take part in a flag-waving march Tuesday next to the Damascus Gate, outside Jerusalem's Old City.

Overnight, tensions between Israel and Hamas erupted into violence, posing a potential threat to the brief period of peace reached between the two just weeks ago.

Israeli jets struck two targets early Wednesday in Gaza. In a tweet, which included a video of the attack, the Israel Defense Forces said its "fighter jets struck Hamas military compounds last night, which were used as meeting sites for Hamas terror operatives. Hamas will bear the consequences for its actions."

The IDF said it's "prepared for any scenario, including a resumption of hostilities, in the face of continuing terror activities from the Gaza Strip."

It's unclear if there were any injuries or deaths tied to the airstrikes.

The IDF launched this attack evidently in retaliation for a series of incendiary balloons launched by Hamas hours earlier. The balloons caused at least 20 fires on Israel's southern border.

Those balloons were in response to a flag march in Jerusalem earlier Tuesday during which Israeli nationalists marched through Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem waving flags, with some yelling, "Death to Arabs."

Palestinian leaders, who saw the march as a provocation, called for a "Day of Rage." Israeli police responded to Palestinian demonstrators by attempting to disperse them with rubber bullets.

The tit for tat throughout Tuesday upended the brief cease-fire reached May 21 afteran 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.

How did this start?

The Jerusalem Day flag march, that appears to have ignited tensions on Tuesday, is an annual event that marks Israel's capture of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Israel's new right-wing prime minister, Naftali Bennett, is aligned with the marchers. He approved the twice-postponed event but altered the route to reduce confrontations with Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.

The event still led to 17 arrests and 27 injuries of Palestinians after clashes with Israeli police.

Police officers clash with a Palestinian man as they force Palestinians out of Damascus Gate area before the far right flag march on June 15 in Jerusalem.
Amir Levy / Getty Images
Getty Images
Police officers clash with a Palestinian man as they force Palestinians out of the Damascus Gate area before the far-right flag march Tuesday in Jerusalem.

What does this mean for Bennett's new government?

Israel is in the middle of a major transition. The events of the past 24 hours comes just three days into the nation's new government.

Bennett was sworn in on Sunday after his diverse coalition unseated longtime Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

Feelings within the coalition toward the flag march are split.

While Bennett supported the march, Yair Lapid, the new foreign minister, condemned the event. Lapid said chants of "Death to Arabs" is "not Judaism and not Israeli."

Bennett and his new government, which is under pressure from the right to be tough on Hamas, must now navigate increasingly tense relations with the Palestinian organization just days into their new roles.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: June 24, 2021 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly said militants launched incendiary balloons before an Israeli nationalist march. The balloons were launched ahead of the march, which had been planned for days.
Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.