Blaze in field near Gaza not sparked by incendiary device — fire department

Fire in south comes hours after Liberman says Israel willing to ease economic restrictions on Strip if flaming kite and balloon launches end

A fire breaks out in near Kibbutz Nir Am in southern Israel, near the Gaza border, on July 22, 2018. (Screen capture: Ofer Liberman)
A fire breaks out in near Kibbutz Nir Am in southern Israel, near the Gaza border, on July 22, 2018. (Screen capture: Ofer Liberman)

A fire that broke at a kibbutz along the border with the Gaza Strip was not sparked by an incendiary device launched from the Palestinian enclave, a spokesperson for the fire department said.

“Following an investigation, Israeli Fire and Rescue Services determined that the fire was not started by a balloon or kite,” spokesperson Eli Cohen said.

The fire at Kibbutz Nir Am was extinguished, he added.

Firefighters, local security officers and IDF soldiers had been called to the kibbutz, located approximately one kilometer (0.6 miles) from Gaza, in order to prevent the fire from spreading.

The blaze came hours after Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced that Israel was prepared to remove the punitive economic measures it put in place earlier this month in response to these “fire kites and balloons,” if the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group stopped the airborne arson attacks.

Defense Minsiter Avigdor Liberman visits the Kerem Shalom Crossing on July 22, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“Yesterday was one of the calmest days, perhaps, since March 30,” Liberman said. “If that situation continues today and tomorrow as it was yesterday, then on Tuesday we will revive the regular procedures and also expand the fishing zone to what it was before.”

The defense minister made his comments at the Kerem Shalom Crossing, the only Israeli crossing for commercial goods into and out of the Gaza Strip, which has been closed to everything but shipments of food, medicine and occasionally fuel since July 9.

Liberman stressed that calm also meant an end to months of kites and balloons carrying firebombs over the border fence from the Palestinian enclave to burn Israeli farming land.

Despite the official determination that the fire at Kibbutz Nir Am was not sparked by a flaming object launched from Gaza, a kibbutz official told Israel Radio that residents still see Hamas as haunting their lives despite the unofficial ceasefire reached over the weekend.

“We don’t decide on the agenda, Hamas decides when to start or when to get down on all fours and beg for it to end, and so it ends when [Hamas] wants. When they’ll send balloons and when not, and how many balloons to fly. We cannot let that continue,” Ofer Liberman said.

An undated photo of Sgt. Aviv Levi of the IDF’s Givati Brigade, who was killed by sniper fire from Gaza on July 20. (Courtesy)

On Friday evening, a Palestinian sniper shot dead an IDF soldier, Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi, 20, along the security fence surrounding the coastal enclave — the first Israeli killed in an attack from Gaza since the 2014 war.

In response, the Israeli military launched a series of raids against dozens of Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. Four Palestinians were killed, Hamas reported that three were its fighters.

A ceasefire was reached within hours, with many in Israel seeing the speed with which the agreement was reached and the lack of significant counter-attacks by Hamas as a sign that the Gaza-ruling terrorist group was not interested in a new all-out war with the Jewish state.

After the Friday airstrikes, Hamas appears to believe that Israel was prepared to go to war to stop the incendiary kite and balloon attacks from Gaza, along with the recurring violent protests at the border fence. The terror group assesses that such a conflict — the fourth in 10 years — could mean the end of its rule in Gaza, senior defense officials told the Haaretz newspaper.

A picture taken on July 20, 2018, shows the explosions from an Israeli bombardment in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

A senior Israeli diplomatic official told Hebrew-language media that Hamas had vowed to halt airborne arson attacks against Israel going forward. But Hamas sources quoted by Israel Radio on Saturday afternoon denied this.

Nonetheless, Saturday saw the fewest launches of arson kites and balloons in weeks. In one incident, however, an incendiary device caused a major fire at Kibbutz Nahal-Oz.

Smoke fills the cowshed at Kibbutz Nahal-Oz on Saturday as firefighters fight a blaze caused by an arson device launched from Gaza on July 21, 2018. (Gili Yaari/FLASH90)

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars over the past decade. The terror group agreed to the second truce in a week under heavy Egyptian and international pressure.

Israel says it has no interest in engaging in another war with Hamas, but says it will no longer tolerate the group’s campaign of flying incendiary devices into Israel.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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