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Israel strikes Hamas targets in Gaza over fire balloons, military says

TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Israeli warplanes bombed Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip early on Wednesday in response to Palestinians in the enclave launching incendiary balloons towards Israel, the military said.

There were no reports of casualties in the strikes that Israel’s military said targeted underground infrastructure belonging to Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza.

Hamas has been trying to pressure Israel to ease restrictions on Gaza and allow more investment, in part by letting Palestinians launch helium balloons carrying incendiary material that have torched tracts of southern Israeli farmland in recent weeks.

Israel has struck Hamas facilities almost nightly for the past two weeks, saying it would not tolerate the balloons.

Anticipating Israeli attacks after balloon or rocket launchings, Hamas routinely evacuates personnel from its sites.

With tension high, Israel has closed its only commercial crossing with Gaza, banned sea access and halted fuel imports into the coastal strip, leading to its only power plant shutting down last week.

Health officials have voiced concern that the power plant shut down could aggravate a novel coronavirus outbreak in Gaza, which is home to 2 million Palestinians.

Mediators from the United Nations, Egypt and Qatar have been working to restore calm.

Reporting By Ahmed Tolba in Cairo and Rami Ayyub in Tel Aviv; Editing by Tom Hogue, Robert Birsel

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