In First, Israeli Military Fires at Gazans Preparing to Send Flammable Balloons Into Israel

Gaza militants warn 'assassination attempt won't go unanswered' ■ Fires likely caused by burning kites from Strip blaze in southern Israel

Gazans preparing flammable kites to be launched into Israel on Thursday, June 9, 2018

The Israeli military said a drone carried out a warning shot against a group of Palestinian youths in the Gaza Strip who were preparing to send flammable balloons into Israel.

This is the first time the Israeli military has undertaken such a step against flammable objects flying from Gaza into Israel. According to Palestinian reports, the strike did not result in any casualties. The Israeli security cabinet is expected to convene on Sunday to discuss the humanitarian situation in the Strip.

>> As fires around Gaza become daily sight, Israeli army faces pressure to act

The Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson's Unit said "the IDF carried out a warning shot with an aircraft at a group that was busy preparing explosive balloons." According to the statement, "the IDF considers the use of balloons and kites to be severe and will act to prevent their use."

The Salah al-Din Brigades, the Popular Resistance Committees' military wing in Gaza, said Israel's strike "is proof of the failure of Israel's strategy against the kites." The statement added that "the assassination attempt will not go unanswered."

Israeli firefighters attempt to put out a fire in Be'eri, Israel, on Saturday, June 9, 2018
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Meanwhile, fires likely caused by flammable kites were reported on Highway 34 between Sderot and Kibbutz Nirim in the Eshkol Regional Council near the Israel-Gaza border. Police closed the road and have asked drivers to search for alternative routes.

Since the end of March, the Gaza border area has seen nearly 300 fires. Some 5,000 dunams (1,235 acres) of crops, mostly wheat, worth around five million shekels ($1.4 million), has burned. Beyond the agricultural damage, at least 2,100 dunams went up in flames in Jewish National Fund forests in the region, in addition to 5,000 to 4,000 dunams in the Besor Forest Nature Reserve and thousands of dunams of woodland and brushland in the area.

Earlier this week, Haaretz reported that Israeli military officials believe they will no longer be able to show restraint in the face of the burning kites. The Israeli army faces pressure to act from border communities which have suffered from the frequent fires.

Palestinians, for the most part, have been flying the kites at noon, when a western wind is at its strongest, in an effort to send the kites over a greater distance. Firefighters deployed along the Gaza border are being dispatched first to contain the fires as alerts come in.

During protests held at the border with Israel on Friday, Palestinians launched kites causing fires in Kibbutz Nahal Oz, Kerem Shalom, Be'eri, Nir Am. Gaza's Health Ministry said four Palestinians were killed and 92 were wounded by Israeli army fire during the protests, which drew thousands of demonstrators.