Twelve fires broke out near the Israeli city of Ashkelon on Wednesday, apparently caused by incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza Strip.
That would make Wednesday the seventh consecutive day that incendiary balloons have caused conflagrations near the border with the Strip.
The area’s regional council issued a statement that a balloon carrying an explosive device had been spotted and that firefighters had brought one fire under control and are working to put out two others.
Overnight Tuesday, the Israel Air Force struck targets in Gaza which it said belong to Hamas, in retaliation for incendiary balloons launched over the border on Tuesday.
In a statement, the army said it “views any terrorist activity aimed at Israeli territory with utmost seriousness and will continue to act whenever necessary against attempts to harm Israeli citizens.”
In response to attack, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said “The continuing escalation on the part of Israel in the Gaza Strip and the strikes on Hamas sites proves that Israel is continuing its aggression and its crimes, which will not subdue the Palestinian people.”
On Tuesday morning, Israeli fire and rescue services said they had brought roughly 60 fires under control in areas of Israel near the Gaza Strip. The fires caused no injuries, but the firefighting service said property was damaged.
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The Israel Nature and Parks Authority reported 20 separate fire outbreaks in the Bitronot Be’eri nature reserve in the area, which burned 700 dunums (175 acres) of land.
Israeli defense officials are reportedly taking the recent wave of incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip into Israel seriously, but are attempting to avoid an overly harsh response against Hamas and a further escalation.
At this stage, officials are choosing mediation efforts undertaken by Qatar and other countries to restore calm. They are nevertheless mindful that the fires undermine the sense of security for the area’s residents and that the army may be forced to step up its response if balloons continue to be launched.