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Israel Launches Second Strike Against Gaza Following Cease-Fire
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Israel Launches Second Strike Against Gaza Following Cease-Fire


JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel launched airstrikes on Gaza late Thursday, the second time since a shaky cease-fire ended last month's 11-day war, after activists mobilized by Gaza's militant Hamas rulers launched incendiary balloons into Israel for the third day in a row.

There were no immediate reports of casualties from the strikes, which were heard from Gaza City. Israel also carried out airstrikes early Wednesday, allegedly targeting Hamas facilities, without killing or injuring anyone.

Rocket sirens sounded in Israeli communities near Gaza shortly after the airstrikes, though it was unclear whether any projectiles were fired.

In response to the balloons, the military said fighter jets attacked Hamas "military compounds and a rocket launch site" late Thursday, and that its forces were preparing for a "variety of scenarios," including the resumption of hostilities.

Tensions have remained high since the cease-fire, despite Egyptian mediators meeting with Israeli and Hamas officials to try to strengthen the informal truce.

Since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, Israel and Egypt have imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza, home to over 2 million Palestinians.

Earlier, Israeli police used stun grenades and a water cannon spraying skunk water to disperse Palestinian protesters at Damascus Gate in east Jerusalem, the site of weeks of protests and clashes leading up to the Gaza war.

Following the dispersal of the crowds, Palestinians were seen throwing rocks and water bottles at ultra-Orthodox Jews passing by.

Protesters had been summoned to Damascus Gate in response to a rally held there by Jewish ultranationalists on Tuesday, during which dozens of Israelis chanted "Death to Arabs" and "May your village burn." The police had forcibly cleared the square and provided security for that rally, which was part of a parade celebrating Israel's conquest of east Jerusalem.

In a separate incident, a Palestinian teenager died Thursday after being shot by Israeli troops during a protest against a settlement outpost in the occupied West Bank, becoming the fourth demonstrator killed since the outpost's establishment last month.

The Israeli military said Wednesday that a soldier stationed near the wildcat outpost in the West Bank saw a group of Palestinians approaching and that one “hurled a suspicious object at him, which exploded adjacent to the soldier.” The soldier then shot the Palestinian who threw the object, according to the army.

Ahmad Shamsa, 15, died of a gunshot wound sustained the day before, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry on Thursday.

Settlers established the Eviatar outpost near the northern West Bank town of Nablus last month and claim it now houses dozens of families; Palestinians claim it is built on private land and fear it will grow and merge with other large settlements nearby.

Nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers live in 130 settlements spread across the occupied West Bank, which the Palestinians and much of the international community regard as a violation of international law and a major impediment to peace.

The outpost has been evacuated on several occasions, but Israeli authorities appear hesitant to do so again this time because it would embarrass Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and other right-wing members of the fragile government sworn in over the weekend.

Palestinians from the nearby village of Beita have staged several protests, during which demonstrators have thrown stones and Israeli troops have fired tear gas and live ammunition, killing four Palestinians since mid-May, including Shamsa and another adolescent.

On Wednesday, the Israeli military shot and killed a Palestinian woman after she allegedly attempted to ram her car into a group of soldiers guarding a West Bank construction site.

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The army said in a statement that soldiers fired at the woman in Hizmeh, just north of Jerusalem, after she got out of her car and pulled out a knife. The statement did not specify how close the woman was to the soldiers, and the army did not release any photos or video of the incident.

Mai Afaneh's family insisted that she had no reason or capability to carry out an attack.

In recent years, Israel has witnessed a wave of shootings, stabbings, and car rammings against Israeli soldiers and civilians in the occupied West Bank, the majority of which were carried out by Palestinians with no apparent ties to organized militant groups.

According to Palestinians and Israeli human rights organizations, soldiers frequently use excessive force and could have stopped some assailants without killing them, and in some cases, innocent people have been mistakenly identified as attackers and shot.

The Palestinians want the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority has limited self-rule in population centers, along with the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, as part of a future state. Israel captured all three territories in the 1967 war and claims Jerusalem is indivisible. There have been no substantive peace talks in more than a decade.

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Adel Hana and Khalil Hamra of the Associated Press in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, and Isaac Scharf of the Associated Press in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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