Airstrikes hit Gaza a 2nd day

Israeli response targets protesters

A Palestinian protester uses sling shots to hurls stones while waves Palestinian flag as others burn tires during clashes with Israeli security forces along the frontier with Israel, east of Gaza City, Friday, Sept. 22, 2023. The Israeli military said it struck three posts belonging to Hamas, the Islamic militant group that has controlled Gaza since 2007, following a number of incendiary balloons launched from Gaza into Israel. This is the latest violence to roil the territory as Palestinians stage routine protests by the border fence. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

JERUSALEM -- Israeli airstrikes hit a militant site in Gaza on Saturday for the second time in as many days, the Israeli army said, after Palestinian militants sent incendiary balloons into Israeli farmland and Palestinian protesters threw stones and explosives at soldiers at the separation fence.

There were no reported casualties from the strikes in Gaza. Earlier Saturday, the Israeli military shot and wounded three Palestinians who were rallying at the separation fence along the Israeli frontier with the crowded enclave. It's a familiar tactic for Palestinians in Gaza protesting a 16-year blockade imposed by Israel with Egypt's help. Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent the ruling Hamas militant group from arming itself.

It was the latest in a series of violent protests over the past week that has raised the specter of an escalation for the first time since a brief round of conflict last May between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group. It comes at a fraught time, just before the Sukkot festival in Israel this week.

During Sukkot, large numbers of Jews are expected to visit Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site, revered by Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The compound, home to the Al-Aqsa mosque, is often a focal point for violence.

"Our rebellious youth are expressing their anger at the attempts at religious war being waged against our people in Jerusalem," Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem told local media from the protest area, where tires set alight smoldered behind him.

The Israeli army said Saturday that it had targeted a post belonging to the territory's militant Hamas rulers near the separation fence in eastern Gaza where dozens of Palestinians had protested. Hamas-linked media outlets posted photos of militants sending a barrage of balloons attached to incendiary devices over the border from eastern Khan Younis, one of the biggest cities in the strip.

Militants also attempted to set fires in Israeli farmland surrounding the strip Friday after another protest at the perimeter fence left nearly three dozen Palestinians wounded by Israeli fire. Israel also responded with a series of airstrikes late Friday.

Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in 2007, has described the protests as spontaneously organized by "rebellious youths" in response to Israeli provocations. Israel has opted for a punitive response, barring about 18,000 Palestinian laborers from Gaza from working in Israel, where they can earn up to 10 times as much money as in Gaza.