After many hours, firefighters succeeded in extinguishing 17 brush fires that broke out Sunday around the Gaza border, apparently having been sparked by burning kites flown from the Strip.
In addition, police said that children in a town near the border discovered a kite with a suspected bomb attached to it. Sappers neutralized the bomb using a robot. Local councils warned residents never to approach kites that are flown over the border, but to call the authorities immediately.
In a video released earlier Sunday, firefighters said that in the past two months, 741 acres of forest were burned in 285 separate incidents, causing tremendous damage to plant and wildlife. The flora will take many years to rehabilitate, officials said.
The most recent flareup in tensions with Gaza has seen sporadic rocket and missile fire at southern Israel. Meanwhile, fires caused by incendiary kites launched over the border on a near daily basis have burned, in addition to forest land, thousands of acres of agricultural fields and grasslands adjacent to the Palestinian territory.
Kites, what should only be a fun children's toy, are being used by terrorists in #Gaza to carry out attacks in #Israel. These are some of the brave Israelis who are stomping out #KiteTerrorism fires as quickly as possible to prevent damage to the environment and animal habitats. pic.twitter.com/2PHPUFqOYX
— COGAT (@cogat_israel) June 10, 2018
Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched hundreds of helium balloons and kites bearing flammable materials into Israeli territory.
Israel has attempted to use drones to down the kites and balloons.
The flying objects are fitted with a long string to which a Molotov cocktail or pouch of burning fuel — or, in a few rare cases, improvised explosive device — is attached.
In Friday’s border violence, Gazans used helium-filled balloons to carry explosives, detonated by remote control, in attempts to attack troops, the IDF said. Officials said no soldiers were hurt in those attempted attacks, but that the tactic constituted a grave new development; on Saturday, an Israeli aircraft for the first time attacked a group of three Gazans preparing a store of balloons, in an apparent response.
According to the IDF, joint teams of soldiers, firefighters, and civilians have managed to bring down over 500 fire kites and balloons launched toward Israel in the past 10 weeks.
In total, nearly 18,000 dunams (4,500 acres) of agricultural fields, forests and grasslands have been burned, causing over NIS 5 million ($1.4 million) worth of damage, officials said.
The kites and arson attacks are linked to Palestinians protesting on the border in what has been termed the “March of Return,” a series of mass protests and attacks on Israel supported by the Hamas terror group, which controls the coastal enclave.
In two months of “March of Return” mass protests at the Gaza border, more than 120 Palestinians were believed killed and thousands wounded by Israeli military fire. The majority of the fatalities were members of terror groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have acknowledged. Israel says its troops were defending its border, and accuses Hamas of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of the protests.
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that in order to cover the cost of damage to affected fields, the government would consider withholding tax revenue funds from the Palestinian Authority.
The decision raised eyebrows among Israeli analysts, who pointed out that the PA does not control the Gaza Strip. Indeed, the authority’s primary rival, the Hamas terror group, has ruled the enclave since ousting the PA in a violent coup in 2007. Making the PA financially responsible for the kites could incentivize Hamas to continue encouraging the tactic, analysts have warned.