Fourth Gaza Strike: Israel Goes on the Attack Against Palestinians Launching Burning Balloons

Air force targeted 'car of cell leader' in early morning hours, followed by group who allegedly sent burning kites into Israel, and additional group who sent incendiary balloons ■ Overnight: Rockets fired from Gaza

A Palestinian man inspects a destroyed car after an Israeli air strike in al-Shujaiyya neighbourhood, eastern Gaza City in the Gaza Strip, on June 17, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP

>> Update: Overnight Flare-up: IDF Strikes Hamas Targets, Rockets Fired From Gaza

The Israeli army said Sunday evening that it struck a car used by a group of Palestinians who launched incindiery balloons from the southern Gaza Strip into Israel, the fourth such strike in a day. Meanwhile, some 17 fires broke out throughout the day in Gaza border communities, the Jewish National Fund said.

Reports in Gaza said Israel attacked a Hamas target east of the Al-Bureij refugee camp in the center of the coastal enclave. No casualties were reported.

Early Sunday, the military confirmed that it struck the vehicle of one of the leaders of the incendiary kites unit in Gaza. This was in response to a string of kites and balloons with explosives launched at Israel in recent days, the army said. Later, the army struck again, this time also targeting what the army called a cell launching balloons carrying explosive devices.

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

Palestinian sources reported two people injured but no official reports of injuries have yet been issued. Meanwhile, there were reports of at least ten fires in the south since the morning - in one case in a local forest.

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Young Gazans preparing to launch incendiary kites into Israel last week.

The IDF has come to the realization that both politicians and residents living near the Gaza border are losing patience with the incendiary kites and balloons setting the fields and forests on ablaze. As a result the IDF is considering a harsher response against those launching the kites, s well as attacks against strategic facilitiies of Hamas to pressure the organization to put an end to the launching of firebombs and explosives into Israel. 

The IDF originally thought it could provide a technological response to the kite attacks within a short time, but as the damage grows and the population is losing its patience, the military may now have to take stronger action. At the moment, it seems more likely the steps will include attacks on Hamas facilities and attacks on those launching the kites and balloons. An attack on such a cell could by mistake lead to larger numbers of casualties.    

A fire at Kissufim on June 16, 2018.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

On Saturday, the Israeli army said it carried out a drone strike near residents of the Gaza Strip who were launching incendiary balloons into Israel. Two people were wounded in the strike, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza.

The military said the incident was not intended to harm the Palestinians and the attack was meant to serve as a deterrent.

Incendiary kites and balloons launched from the Gaza Strip are thought to be behind ten of seventeen fires that blazed in Israeli communities near the border Saturday. Over the past few months, incendiary kites and balloons have destroyed some 5,000 dunams (about 1,235 acres) of Israeli fields, resulting in about 7 million shekels (nearly $2 million) in damages.

Last week, Haaretz reported that Israeli military officials believed they would no longer be able to show restraint in the face of the large numbers of incendiary kites and balloons launched from Gaza.

A few days later, the Israeli military responded to the issue for the first time, firing a warning shot against a group of Palestinian youths in Gaza who were preparing to send flammable balloons into Israel. A similar incident took place on Friday when Israel shot at a group launching explosive balloons.

Friday saw dozens of Palestinian demonstrators congregating at the Israel-Gaza border in what was the lowest protest turnout since the start of the border protests on March 30. Even as tens of thousands of Palestinians attended morning prayers to mark the Id al-Fitr holiday, which commemorates the end of the month-long Ramadan fast, the worshipers dispersed in the afternoon and few stayed to demonstrate. 

A day earlier, the Gaza Health Ministry said a 21-year-old Palestinian who had been shot by Israeli troops near the Gaza border the week before had died, bringing to 128 the number of Palestinians killed since the weekly Friday protests began in March.