After 2 weeks of quiet, arson balloons launched from Gaza start 4 fires in south

Firefighters gain control of blazes before they cause damage; new government has been quicker to respond to such actions, striking Hamas targets in Gaza in response

Firefighters try to extinguish a fire caused from an incendiary balloon near the Israeli-Gaza border, southern Israel, on June 15, 2021. (Israel Fire Service)
Firefighters try to extinguish a fire caused from an incendiary balloon near the Israeli-Gaza border, southern Israel, on June 15, 2021. (Israel Fire Service)

Incendiary balloons launched from Gaza sparked four fires near Israeli towns along the southern border Thursday, breaking more than two weeks of quiet since the last wave of attempted arson attacks.

Most of the fires were small and not dangerous, according to the Fire and Rescue Services, which said that its respondents quickly managed to gain control of the blazes in the Eshkol Regional Council before significant damage was caused.

In June, arson balloons launched by Hamas operatives caused some 20 fires in Israeli communities in the Gaza periphery. Israel Defense Forces planes struck a wide range of Hamas military targets throughout the Strip, responding to the attacks in less than a day.

The response by the new government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett indicated a shift in policy from the previous one, which did not always respond to arson balloon attacks with airstrikes, and wouldn’t do so as quickly or as forcibly, in order to avoid escalation along the southern border.

Last month’s arson balloons and counterstrikes were the first since the 11-day war that Israel fought against Gaza terror groups in May. They took place amid Israel’s decision to allow far-right activists to proceed with flag march through the Old City of Jerusalem, which Palestinian groups branded as a provocation.

For the past three years, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, mostly linked to Hamas and other terror groups, have launched thousands of balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices into southern Israel, causing widespread fires and significant damage to agricultural fields, nature reserves, and private property.

Hamas has used the launching of incendiary devices in order to keep pressure on Israel to move along with reconstruction efforts in the Strip.

Bennett, who replaced Benjamin Netanyahu on June 13, has long urged a tougher response to arson balloons, saying in previous years that they should be treated the same as rockets, and that attacks on southern Israel should receive the same response as attacks targeting central Israel.

In 2018, for instance, Bennett — then the education minister — called for the IDF to try to kill all those launching attack balloons from Gaza, a proposal that was opposed by then-IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot.

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