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Israel strikes Hamas targets in Gaza over incendiary balloons

Hamas militants parade through Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip during an anti-Israel rally on May 28. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI | License Photo

June 18 (UPI) -- Israel late Thursday conducted air strikes into Gaza, the second time it has attacked the self-governing Palestinian territory since a cease-fire last month ended 11 days of fighting between the two sides.

The Israel Defense Forces said it conducted the attacks in response to incendiary balloons launched from Gaza, striking a military compound and a rocket launch site of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

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"The IDF has increased its readiness for various scenarios & will continue to strike Hamas terror targets in Gaza," it said on Twitter.

The strikes were followed by rocket sirens blearing through southern Israel early Friday, which the IDF explained was triggered by "fire, not rockets, from Gaza toward Israel."

It is unknown how many incendiary balloons were launched from Gaza toward Israel, but the Israel Fire and Rescue Services reported putting out fires they caused in the Eshkol and Sha'ar Hanegev regions that border the Palestinian-controlled area.

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Earlier in the week, Israel hit Hamas military compounds in retaliation against incendiary balloons days sent into Israel after the Israeli parliament voted on Sunday to confirm a new unity government.

Hamas disregarded the recent attacks as a distraction.

"The occupation bombing of resistance sites is simply meant for show, an attempt by the new government to raise the morale of its soldiers and commanders after it collapsed" in the recent fighting, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said, The Times of Israel reported.

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Also on Thursday, a 15-year-old Palestinian boy died after being shot by Israeli forces in the West Bank the day prior, the Defense for Children International Palestine said in a statement.

The non-governmental organization said Ahmad Zahi Ibrahim Bani-Shamsa was shot in the head at about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and died at 3 a.m. the next day.

According to the Palestinian human rights organization, the boy was with others protesting the death of their 16-year-old friend and as he approached a soldier was shot with a round.

The recent round of attacks between Israel and Hamas was conducted weeks after an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire was put in place, ending 11 days of bloody fighting that erupted May 10.

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The fighting began with Hamas firing rockets at Israel as tensions between Israelis and Palestinians turned violent over the former's intention to forcibly displace Palestinians from their East Jerusalem homes.

According to figures from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 240 Palestinians, including 63 children, were killed by Operation Guardian of the Walls with almost 2,000 more being injured. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said 12 Israelis were killed by Hamas rockets.

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