Some 60,000 Israelis flocked to nature reserves and fields at Gaza border communities Saturday to celebrate the annual blooming of the area’s red anemones (kalaniyot), a monthlong event of particular excitement for locals and visitors alike after months where the fields were charred by incendiary balloons flown from the Hamas-controlled coastal enclave.
Friday and Saturday marked the first two days of the Adom Darom (Red South) Festival, which will be held on every weekend throughout the month of February and the first weekend in March.
Organizers said they expected similar numbers at subsequent weekends of the festival.
The festival goers were among 150,000 Israelis who trekked in national parks throughout the country Saturday. Travelers took advantage of the unseasonably sunny weather after weeks of considerable rains, which allowed for the explosion of red flowers seen in the country’s south.
In addition to the festival, large numbers of Israelis were recorded to have visited the Banias, Nahal Iyyon, Ein Gedi nature reserves along with the Caesarea and Masada national parks.
Some 7,000 Israelis also visited the ski resort in the chillier Mount Hermon in the north.
In light of the high number of travelers, police called on the public to exercise patience and follow the instructions of officers directing traffic at the various sites throughout the country. Authorities also warned visitors to immediately alert police if they come across any suspicious objects, including kites or balloons, and not to approach them.
Since March, Palestinians have been holding weekly “March of Return” protests on the border, which Israel has accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of using to carry out attacks on troops and attempt to breach the security fence.
Gaza protesters have launched hundreds of such incendiary kites and balloons into Israel. Over 7,000 acres of land were burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials. Some balloons carried improvised explosive devices.
Israel has demanded an end to the violent demonstrations along the border in any ceasefire agreement.
Their organizers have said the protests aim to achieve the “return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands that are now part of Israel, and pressure the Jewish state to lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave.
Israeli officials hold that the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants would destroy Israel’s Jewish character. They also maintain that the restrictions on movement are in place to prevent Hamas and other terrorist groups from smuggling weapons into the Strip.
Hamas, which violently seized control of Gaza in 2007 from the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority, is a terror group that seeks to destroy Israel.