NOUR SHAMS REFUGEE CAMP, West Bank – Israeli airstrikes hit militant sites in Gaza for the third straight day on Sunday, the Israeli military said, after Palestinian militants fired incendiary balloons into Israel near the border fence and threw explosives at soldiers. The attack followed an Israeli military strike in the northern West Bank that killed two Palestinians, according to Palestinian health authorities.
It was the latest bloodshed in a wave of violence during a sensitive Jewish holiday season. A series of violent escalations on the Israel-Gaza border over the past week have raised the specter of escalation for the first time since a brief round of conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad last May.
A difficult time is coming. Jews observe Yom Kippur, the holiest day in their calendar, on Sunday evening, followed by the week-long festival of Sukkot later in the month.
No casualties were reported from the attacks in Gaza. Earlier on Sunday, the Israeli military shot and wounded five Palestinians who were gathering at the separation fence along Israel’s border with the crowded enclave. It’s a familiar tactic for Palestinians in Gaza, who are protesting a 16-year blockade imposed by Israel with the help of Egypt. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent the ruling militant group Hamas from arming itself.
The Israeli army said on Sunday it attacked two posts of Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, east of Bureij and Jabaliya refugee camp. The posts were near the fence separating the area from Israel, where dozens of Palestinians have demonstrated daily for the past week.
For the third time in a few days, media outlets published photos of militant protesters sending a barrage of balloons attached to incendiary devices across the eastern border. The Israeli army said the balloons started two fires in Israel.
Increasing tensions were also noticeable in the West Bank.
Earlier in the day, the Israeli military said it had entered the Nour Shams refugee camp near the town of Tulkarem to destroy what it described as the militants’ command center and bomb site in a building.
It said technical units detonated several bombs planted under roads and militants opened fire and hurled explosives while troops responded with live ammunition.
The Palestinian Health Ministry said two men – Asid Abu Ali, 21, and Abdulrahman Abu Daghash, 32 – were killed by Israeli fire. The raid caused severe damage to the camp’s main road, as water pipes were cut and parts of the road were flooded. The ground floor of the target building was severely damaged, while part of the external wall of the second floor collapsed.
The militant Hamas group claimed Abu Ali as a member.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, Birzeit University, a major Palestinian institution, said the Israeli army carried out a rare raid on its campus near the city of Ramallah and arrested nine students, including the head of the student council. It was said the students were all supporters of the militant group Hamas. The university condemned the raid, which it said resulted in damage to university property.
The Israeli military claimed the suspects were planning to attack Israeli targets.
Israel has been carrying out increased military raids for the past year and a half, particularly in the northern West Bank, ostensibly to root out Palestinian militants and prevent future attacks.
But Palestinians say the raids cement Israel’s 56-year occupation of the West Bank. The raids showed little sign of slowing the fighting and contributed to the weakening of the Palestinian Authority, the self-governing government that governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
About 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 were militants, but youth protesting the raids and others not involved in the clashes were also killed.
At least 31 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks on Israelis this year.
On Saturday, Israeli airstrikes hit a militant site for the second time in two days, after Palestinians sent incendiary balloons onto Israeli farmland and Palestinian protesters threw rocks and explosives at soldiers at the separation fence
The peak of violence comes during the Jewish New Year holiday. Jews observe Yom Kippur, the holiest day in their calendar, on Sunday evening, followed by the week-long festival of Sukkot later in the month.
For Sukkot, large numbers of Jews are expected to visit Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The site where the Al-Aqsa Mosque is located is often a hotspot for violence.
Israel captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians are seeking these areas for their hoped-for independent state.