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As Gaza fears virus outbreak, Israel said to offer aid — if all attacks halted

Gaza has 146 COVID cases; incendiary balloons launched from Hamas-run territory cause 24 fires in southern Israel Friday

A Palestinian woman carries a plate of food as she walks alongside her child, both clad in masks, in Gaza City on August 28, 2020, during a lockdown in the Palestinian enclave due to increasing cases of COVID-19 infections. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
A Palestinian woman carries a plate of food as she walks alongside her child, both clad in masks, in Gaza City on August 28, 2020, during a lockdown in the Palestinian enclave due to increasing cases of COVID-19 infections. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

Amid mounting Hamas concern over rising coronavirus cases in the Gaza Strip, Israel has told the terror group it will provide it with the aid necessary to handle the pandemic but only if it immediately halts all attacks emanating from the territory, according to a Friday report.

Channel 13 news said Hamas is extraordinarily worried about spreading COVID-19 cases in the Gaza population, which until recent days had been contained in quarantine centers.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza health ministry said late Friday there were 146 cases in the Strip, including 37 in quarantine centers and 109 in the general public.

Without outside support, the terror group will not be able to handle an outbreak, the report said. Recognizing this, Israel has indicated to Hamas it will provide the necessary aid, but only if all aggression is halted.

Palestinians in the Strip have in recent weeks sent waves of arson balloons across the border, sparking scores of wildfires in southern Israel, launched rockets across the border and held violent protests along the security fence. Israel, in retaliation, has carried out near-nightly airstrikes against Hamas targets, limited imports to the Strip and restricted its fishing zone.

An Israeli man works to extinguish a fire on the Israeli side of the border between Israel and Gaza, Aug. 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza Strip Friday sparked at least 24 fires in southern Israel, authorities said.

Firefighting teams dealt with the blazes, mostly in the Sha’ar Hanegev, Hof Ashkelon and Eshkol regions.

Officials said most of the fires were small and did not pose a significant danger.

UN Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov on Friday warned that the situation in and around Gaza was “rapidly deteriorating” amid worsening conditions and a rise in coronavirus cases in the territory.

“I am VERY concerned that escalation is imminent,” he tweeted. “#Palestinian militants must immediately stop the launching of projectiles, incendiary devices. #Israel must restore #UN fuel deliveries for electricity. Under the current circumstances no mediation efforts to prevent escalation & improve the situation can succeed.”

Health officials in the Strip worry a growing outbreak could overwhelm the territory’s fragile health care system.

Hamas said Friday morning it would exact a “heavy price” from anyone who threatened the Gaza Strip after overnight violence saw a volley of rockets launched toward southern Israel and two rounds of airstrikes on the enclave.

The Israeli military conducted an initial bombing raid against Hamas facilities in Gaza Thursday night in response to the balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices launched across the border into Israel throughout Thursday.

This was followed by a launch of six rockets at southern Israel. They struck open fields, causing neither injury nor damage.

Palestinian men prepare to release balloon-borne explosive and incendiary devices toward Israel near Rafah, along the Israel-Gaza border, on August 21, 2020 (Fadi Fahd/Flash90)

The military then responded with strikes on Hamas sites, including a weapons manufacturing facility.

On Thursday, Hamas reportedly said that efforts to reach a ceasefire with Israel had failed, warning Israel of “messages” to be sent within hours.

A source in the group was quoted by Lebanese Hezbollah-affiliated TV al-Mayadeen as saying Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi had left the territory after two days in which he brought cash to the Strip and tried to broker a ceasefire amid weeks of mutual attacks.

The source said the failure to reach a deal was due to Israel’s insistence on the equation of “calm in return for calm,” rather than “calm in return for an end to the blockade” of the Strip.

Gaza terror groups won’t let Israel “use the pretext of the balloons to bomb posts in the Strip,” the source was quoted as saying.

Al-Emadi arrived in Gaza late Tuesday night, bringing $30 million in cash, seeking to ease the Israel-Hamas tensions that have led to the daily and reprisal strikes. The money is earmarked to assist the territory’s two million people, half of whom live under the poverty line, sources close to the envoy told AFP.

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

The terror group 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 power shortages are a result of Israel stopping fuel imports in response to the violence, which caused 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.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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