Arson balloons from Gaza spark 29 fires in Israel Tuesday

Airborne bomb launched by terrorists explodes in basketball court in Netivot, as escalation continues

View of a fire near kibbutz Be'eri, caused by incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza Strip, on August 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
View of a fire near kibbutz Be'eri, caused by incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza Strip, on August 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s fire and rescue service said Tuesday evening that 29 fires had been sparked in southern Israel throughout the day by balloon-borne incendiary devices lofted from Gaza.

It said most of the fires were small and posed no danger to people or property.

Most of those were centered in the Sha’ar Hanegev, Eshkol, and Merhavim regional councils. In all of those cases, fire service investigators determined the cause to be arson balloons launched from Gaza.

Later in the evening, an explosive device attached to a balloon exploded inside a basketball court in the town of Netivot, causing property damage.

In recent days the IDF has responded to dozens of daily arson balloons and intermittent rocket fire with near-nightly reprisal strikes on Hamas targets in the Strip, including underground infrastructure, weapons production facilities, cement factories used to make parts for tunnels, and observation posts along the border.

The 29 fires caused by airborne arson attacks in southern Israel on Tuesday followed 36 on Monday, 28 on Sunday and 35 the day before, according to the fire department.

On Monday, a senior Hamas official told the pro-Hamas channel Palestine Today that the surge in violence would continue until the terror group’s demands on lifting the blockade were met.

“It is our right to break this siege,” Ismail Radwan said.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on Gaza since Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority in 2007. The blockade is meant to prevent Hamas from importing weapons with which to attacking Israel, as well as material used to construct fortifications and underground tunnels. Israel also frequently tightens restrictions on the Gaza Strip to put pressure on Hamas or in response to violence emanating from it.

Israel has shuttered its only commercial crossing into the Gaza Strip, allowing only food, medication and humanitarian aid to pass. Israel also closed the fishing zone around the coastal enclave.

On Monday, a coalition of Gaza-based terror groups threatened to attack Israeli forces if the ban on fishing — a major industry in the Strip — continued.

“We will not allow the enemy to behave horribly towards our people’s fishermen, and encroach upon their livelihoods and rob them. We will defend them and work to protect them,” said the so-called Joint Operations Room.

Also on Monday, the London-based Arabic-language daily Asharq al-Awsat reported that the head of the IDF Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, visited Qatar this week in a bid to secure a ceasefire agreement with the Hamas terror group.

Hamas is under immense international pressure from Qatar, Egypt, and UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov to halt its attacks, alongside pressure from the Gazan public, which is getting only three to four hours of electricity per day after becoming used to more than three times that amount. The electricity shortages are a result of Israel stopping fuel imports in response to the violence, which led a Gaza power plant to shut down.

The uptick in violence along the border is thought to be linked to demands for increased cash transfers from Qatar to the Strip, where around 60 percent of the population is unemployed.

Late Tuesday night, Qatar’s envoy to the Gaza Strip entered the coastal enclave carrying the latest installment of cash transfers with him. Mohammed al-Emadi was slated to meet with Hamas leaders for talks no de-escalating the ongoing round of violence.

Judah Ari Gross and Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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