A fire in the Israeli community of Or Haner on June 3, 2018. Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Fire Damage to Israeli Agriculture Near Gaza Border Estimated at $1.4m and Rising

Five fires break out in border region on Sunday. Netanyahu has instructed advancement of a plan to use Palestinian Authority funds to pay reparations

Firefighters on Sunday brought a large fire near the Israeli border community of Or Haner under control a day after a number of blazes broke out on along the border with Gaza in what is suspected to be arson caused by Palestinians across the border.

Crews responding to the fire on Sunday enlisted the help of four aircraft dropping flame retardant to help put out a fire near the border community of Or Haner, near the northeastern corner of the Gaza Strip. Four others fires started in the area on Sunday and were suspected to be caused by firebombs tied to kites flown from Gaza.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Earlier Sunday, several Palestinians crossed the border fence in the southern Gaza Strip and started a fire before returning to Gaza.

In light of the recent fires started by burning kites, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat to advance a plan to use Palestinian Authority funds to offset the cost of compensating those in Gaza border communities for damage done by the fires.

The latest blazes follow fires that broke out Saturday in Israeli fields near the Gaza border. Fire and rescue services suspected that burning kites sent from the Gaza Strip were to blame for the blazes, including one that destroyed some 300 dunams (about 74 acres) of woodland in a nature reserve. The area also saw several fires break out on Friday that were brought under control.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz
\ Eliyahu Hershkovitz

In the area of Kibbutz Be’eri, south of the central Gaza Strip, an agave plantation that predated the establishment of Israel, suffered fire damage on Friday. The grove was planted near Be’eri’s earlier location in 1946 in an effort to use the plants to manufacture rope. Avida Bachar, who heads Be’eri’s agricultural operations, said the grove was almost completely destroyed, although it was of no commercial importance as this point.

Because of the high number of conflagrations caused by firebomb-bearing kites, the Agriculture Ministry has recently begun encouraging farmers in the Gaza border area to harvest their wheat crop ahead of time to above the wheat being destroyed by fire. The government has offered 60 shekels ($17) per dunam (about a quarter acre) to wheat farmers, while anyone whose fields have been damaged are to be considered terrorism victims entitled to compensation.

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.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz
\ Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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