As Fires Rage, Top Minister Says Israel Should Assassinate Palestinians Launching Burning Kites

Fires spread outside of college in south; minister's threat comes after army said it may be forced to retaliate for flaming kites from Gaza

Firefighters trying to put out a forest fire caused by Palestinian incendiary kites near Kibbutz Or Haner on Monday.
\ Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Hamas commanders and Palestinians who launch incendiary kites against Israel from the Gaza Strip should be dealt with using targeted killings, said Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Tuesday, as fires continued to spread in the south as a result of the burning projectiles.

Erdan, speaking at the inauguration of the new municipal command center in the southern city of Sderot close to the border with Gaza, said: “In light of the fact that Hamas is the one allowing the shooting and the sending of the kites, we need to return to preventative assassinations. Those who send the [incendiary] kites and Hamas commanders must be a target for preventative killings,” said Erdan.

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Fire spread outside the Sapir Academic College near Sderot on Tuesday. The fire was under control but a road in the area was closed. Meanwhile, four additional blazes were still burning near the Kibbutz Nir Am nearby.

Gazans send fire-starting kites into Israel; army uses drones for interception

As for other threats from the Gaza Strip, Erdan said: “Today there are other threats: Tunnels, rockets – every time they find a new weapon to try to hurt us. Our enemies are trying to damage the civilian resilience because they know they cannot harm the IDF, but they won’t succeed at this either,” he added.

On Monday, Haaretz reported that Israeli military officials believe they will no longer be able to show restraint in the face of burning kites launched from the Gaza Strip, which have caused extensive damage to Israeli agricultural fields and forests near the border.

Massive fire burns outside of Sapir Academic College

Firebombs tied to kites and balloons have caused blazes in agricultural fields and some have also carried explosive devices with the potential to harm civilians, troops and firefighters called to extinguish the fires.

As of Tuesday afternoon, some 15 fires were burning in various locations near the Gaza border, mostly in the Eshkol Regional Council near the kibbutzim Ein Hashlosha, Kisufim and Nirim. Because of the large number of fires, improvised firefighting teams have been sent from the Jewish National Fund, made up of engineers and headquarters staff, along with the security coordinators of local communities and civilians from the region, who are trying to fight the fires and prevent them from spreading.

Dozens of incendiary kites launched from the Gaza Strip at Israel were spotted during the day Tuesday.

At a meeting with lawmakers from his Yisrael Beiteinu party on Monday, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said: "We will act according to Israel's interests" at a time convenient for Israel. "We will settle accounts with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the rest of the terrorists acting against us from the Gaza Strip," he said in the Knesset. The defense chief also said some 200 kites caused 198 fires, in which 9,000 dunams were burned.

As opposed to what Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Monday, that the IDF had succeeded in intercepting 400 incendiary kites out of 600 sent form Gaza, local Israeli authorities said the numbers were smaller.

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.

A JNF employee who has manned an observation post near the northern Gaza Strip over the past few weeks and whose job is to locate the incendiary kites as they arrive and direct the firefighting crews to their landing points, said: “Our incidents begin the minute the kite lands in the field and a blaze breaks out. I don’t recognize such numbers of interceptions. I have been standing at this observation point for three weeks. So far, I estimate hundreds of kites have fallen inside Israel,” he added.

According to Military Intelligence assessments, Hamas is focusing its efforts on generating a massive turnout for Friday’s protest.

The army is deploying large troop numbers along the border fence, including snipers on the front line. The army said it plans to continue its policy of shooting at anyone trying to reach the fence itself. Since March 30, when the weekly Friday protests began, about 130 Palestinians have been killed.