GAZA CITY - Israeli warplanes struck a Hamas target in Gaza overnight, the military said Wednesday, even as a Qatari envoy joined efforts to broker an end to the almost three-week flare-up.
Israel has bombed the Hamas-ruled enclave almost daily since August 6, in response to the launch of airborne incendiary devices and, less frequently, rockets across the border.
The fire bombs, crude devices fitted to balloons, inflated condoms or plastic bags, have triggered a rash of blazes in southern Israel that have caused significant damage to crops.
"During the day, explosive and arson balloons were launched from the Gaza Strip into Israel," the Israeli military said.
"In response ... fighter jets and (other) aircraft struck an underground infrastructure belonging to the Hamas terror organisation in the southern Gaza Strip."
The fire balloons are widely seen as an attempt by Hamas to improve the terms of an informal truce under which Israel committed to ease its 13-year-old blockade in return for calm on the border.
But so far Israel's response has been to tighten the blockade. It has banned Gaza fishermen from going to sea and closed its goods crossing with the territory, prompting the closure of Gaza's sole power plant for want of fuel.
An Egyptian delegation has been shuttling between the two sides to try to broker a renewal of the truce, and on Tuesday evening Qatar's Gaza envoy Mohammed el-Emadi entered the territory to join the mediation effort.
He left Wednesday evening, bound for Tel Aviv and talks with Israeli representatives, according to sources in Gaza.
QATARI ENVOY HEADS TO ISRAEL
Sources close to the Qatari delegation said the Israelis had told El-Emadi that they were willing to resume fuel deliveries for the power plant and ease their blockade if there was an end to the fire balloons.
The latest agreed ceasefire, which has already been renewed several times, has been bolstered by millions of dollars in financial aid from the gas-rich Gulf state.
Sources close to the envoy said he was delivering a new tranche of 30 million dollars for disbursement to needy families in the impoverished enclave.
Sources close to Hamas say it also wants other measures to ease living conditions in the territory, where unemployment exceeds 50 percent.
They include the extension of an industrial zone in the east of Gaza, the construction of a new power line, and an increase in the number of Israeli work permits issued to Gazans once anti-coronavirus restrictions have been lifted.
On Monday, the Hamas authorities announced a 48-hour lockdown across the territory after four cases of the virus were confirmed in a Gaza Strip refugee camp.
© Agence France-Presse