Air force targets Gazans launching fire balloons at southern Israel

Hamas-linked news site reports IDF drone fired at Palestinians east of Khan Younis who sent airborne incendiary devices into Israel; blazes reported in nearby Kissufim

Palestinians load kites and balloons with flammable material in order to fly toward Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in al-Bureij, central Gaza Strip, on June 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/ Mahmud Hams)
Palestinians load kites and balloons with flammable material in order to fly toward Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in al-Bureij, central Gaza Strip, on June 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/ Mahmud Hams)

An Israeli drone fired a warning shot at a group of Gazans who had flown incendiary balloons into Israeli territory on Sunday, apparently sparking a number of blazes, Palestinian media reported.

The Israeli military confirmed it used “an aircraft” to fire a warning shot at the cell.

According to the Hamas-affiliated Shehab news, the would-be balloon launchers were operating out of a number of tents set up east of the city of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

At least six fires were reported in the nearby Sha’ar Hanegev region of southern Israel as of Sunday afternoon.

The blazes forced authorities to temporarily close the road leading to Kibbutz Kissufim, a Sha’ar Hanegev spokesperson said.

Local firefighters were working to extinguish the fires.

Since the trend began on March 30, the army has struggled to find a way to stop Palestinians from flying fire kites and balloons into Israel, a tactic that has led to daily blazes in fields in southern Israel and raised fears of airborne IED attacks.

In recent days Israeli aircraft have fired several warning shots at groups launching the flaming kites and balloons, apparently a new tactic that the military was looking to adopt in order to counter this threat, which has burned thousands of acres of farmland, forests and nature reserves in the regions around the Gaza Strip, according to Israeli officials.

Early Sunday morning, the Israeli military targeted the car of one of the leaders of the Gazan kite and balloon attacks, blowing up the vehicle while it was parked, empty, outside a mosque near Gaza City.

“Our forces launched an airstrike against the vehicle of one of the leaders of a cell relating to incendiary and explosive kites and balloons. The attack was carried out in response to the ongoing launching of incendiary and explosive kites and balloons into Israel,” the army said in a short statement.

The army did not name the person targeted or say if they were hit in the airstrike.

The Palestinian Shehab news agency, linked to Gaza’s Hamas rulers, reported that the airstrike had hit an empty vehicle outside a mosque in Shejaiya early Sunday morning.

There were no initial reports of injuries.

The strike early Sunday was likely meant as a warning to the unnamed figure that Israel knows where they are and may begin carrying out assassinations from the air, including against figures not actively preparing balloons or kites for launching.

The strike came hours after an Israeli aircraft fired at a group of Palestinians launching incendiary kites and balloons into Israel on Saturday, wounding three people, according to Palestinian media.

Palestinian protesters hold balloons before loading them with flammable material to be flown toward Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in the central Gaza Strip on June 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Balloons and kites caused fires in at least 20 locations in Israel across the Gaza border on Saturday, destroying hundreds of acres of fields and nature reserves.

The army has signaled in recent days that it may be looking into moving beyond warning shots amid mounting political pressure to prevent the daily attacks from the air.

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