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Arson balloon attacks continue for second day after IDF strikes Gaza

Two fires spark in southern Israel on Friday and Saturday, after military targets Hamas weapons factory in response to four earlier blazes

Firefighters try to extinguish a blaze in southern Israel that was sparked by a ballon-borne incendiary device launched by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, on June 15, 2021. (Flash90)
Firefighters try to extinguish a blaze in southern Israel that was sparked by a ballon-borne incendiary device launched by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, on June 15, 2021. (Flash90)

Incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza Strip sparked one fire near a town along the southern border Saturday, on the second day of such attacks since the Israeli military struck targets in Gaza in response to previous arson balloon attacks on southern Israel.

First respondents quickly managed to gain control of the fire near the Israeli town of Be’eri on Saturday, before significant damage was caused.

Fire and Rescue Services investigators determined that the fire was caused by balloons launched from Gaza carrying incendiary devices.

A day earlier, a fire in the Be’eri forest was also caused by arson balloons launched from Gaza, according to the fire service. There was no immediate military response to Friday’s fire.

Between Thursday night and early Friday morning, Israeli warplanes bombed a Hamas weapons factory in Gaza, in response to at least four fires caused by incendiary balloons on Thursday.

Thursday’s fires broke more than two weeks of quiet since the last wave of arson attacks.

In June, arson balloons launched by Hamas operatives caused some 20 fires in Israeli communities near Gaza. Israel Defense Forces planes struck a wide range of Hamas military targets throughout the Gaza 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.

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 a flag march through the Old City of Jerusalem, which Palestinian groups branded as a provocation.

Supporters of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group prepare balloon-borne incendiary devices to launch toward Israel, east of Gaza City, on June 15, 2021. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

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.

Throughout May, over 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 square miles) of fields, nature reserves, forests, and groves were damaged in fires caused by incendiary balloons, according to research from Ben Gurion University.

Map of damage caused by incendiary balloons in southern Israel. (Ben Gurion University)

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

Bennett, who replaced former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu on June 13, had 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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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