Israel-Gaza violence erupts for first time since finish of final month’s combating By Reuters

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From Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – Israel launched air strikes in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, the first since the end of 11 days of cross-border fighting last month, in response to fire balloons launched from Palestinian territory.

The flare-up, a first test of Israel’s new government, followed Tuesday a march in East Jerusalem by Jewish nationalists who threatened action by Hamas, the ruling militant group in Gaza.

The Israeli military said its plane had attacked armed Hamas buildings in Gaza City and the southern city of Khan Younis and was “ready for any scenario, including renewed fighting in the face of ongoing terrorist attacks from Gaza.”

According to the military, the attacks were due to the launch of the balloons, which the Israeli fire service reported that they caused 20 fires in open fields in communities near the Gaza border.

A Hamas spokesman confirmed the Israeli attacks and said the Palestinians would continue their “courageous resistance” in Jerusalem and defend their rights and holy places.

Hours earlier, thousands of flag-waving Israelis gathered around the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City before heading to the sacred Western Wall of Judaism and drawing Palestinian anger and condemnation.

Israel, which occupied East Jerusalem in a war in 1967 and later annexed it in an internationally unrecognized step, regards the entire city as its capital. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of a future state that would include the West Bank and Gaza.

Ahead of Tuesday’s march, Israel stepped up its use of the Iron Dome missile defense system in anticipation of possible rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip.

But when the demonstrators dispersed after dark in Jerusalem, there was no sign of rocket fire from the enclave.

The procession was originally scheduled for May 10th as part of the Jerusalem Day celebrations celebrating the conquest of East Jerusalem by Israel.

At the last minute, that march was diverted from the Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, but the move was insufficient to stop Hamas from firing rockets at Jerusalem, attacks that sparked the fighting last month.

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