Egypt said involved in ‘intensive efforts’ to rein in Hamas, end balloon attacks
With world leaders gathered in Jerusalem

Egypt said involved in ‘intensive efforts’ to rein in Hamas, end balloon attacks

IDF beefs up defenses amid fears Gaza terror groups intend to fire rockets to disrupt international Holocaust meet on Thursday, avenge killing of 3 Palestinians

A spokesman for the armed wing of Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group talks to the press in the town of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, November 11, 2019. (AP Photo/ Hatem Moussa)
A spokesman for the armed wing of Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group talks to the press in the town of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, November 11, 2019. (AP Photo/ Hatem Moussa)

Egypt is in involved in “intense efforts” to get the Hamas terror group to end a recent uptick in arson balloon attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip amid fears of a return to violence, Israeli TV reported Wednesday.

Terror groups in the Strip have continued launch incendiary devices attached to balloons into Israel in recent days, undeterred by Israel’s threats to respond forcefully to Palestinian attempts to disrupt a major event in Jerusalem attended by many world leaders.

Egypt, which has been the primary mediator in recent efforts to achieve a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, was again involved and had persuaded Hamas to stop the balloon attacks, Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported, citing unspecified Palestinian sources.

There was no official confirmation of the report from Egypt or Hamas.

There were at least two attacks by balloon-borne incendiary devices earlier Wednesday.

In the morning, a bundle of balloons was found in the Gaza-adjacent Sdot Negev region, attached to a “suspicious object,” the Israel Police said in a statement.

A bundle of balloons attached to a suspected incendiary device that landed in a home backyard in the Sdot Negev region on January 22, 2020. (Israel Police)

Officers and a police sapper arrived at the scene to deal with the object, the statement said.

Hebrew-language media reported that the incendiary balloons landed in a family’s backyard.

Later Wednesday, police sappers were dispatched to the town of Nir Moshe in the northern Negev region where an additional cluster of balloons landed with a suspicious device attached to it.

Israeli officials believe Hamas is behind the spate of balloon-borne bombs and incendiary devices launched into Israel in recent days, as the group seeks to signal it is unhappy with the slow progress of negotiations for a long-term ceasefire.

Officials have assessed that the group could move to undermine the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, held in Jerusalem on Wednesday and Thursday — either by increasing balloon attacks at Israeli communities or by allowing other, smaller groups to fire rockets into Israel, the report said.

Tensions were also raised after the IDF on Tuesday killed three armed Palestinians who infiltrated into Israel from Gaza.

Kan said Wednesday that the IDF feared that Hamas or other terror groups could fire rockets into Israel, either to try to avenge the three, or to disrupt the Holocaust memorial conference, and had bolstered the deployment of Iron Dome anti-missile batteries.

An Iron Dome battery in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on November 13, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A Monday report said Israel warned Hamas that it will respond forcefully to any attempt to disrupt the summit of world leaders, and will not hesitate to strike the terror group in the Gaza Strip in response to such provocations, regardless of the intensified international focus.

The Fifth World Holocaust Forum is scheduled to take place at Yad Vashem in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

President Reuven Rivlin hosts over 40 world leaders as part of the World Holocaust Forum, on January 22, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In recent days, terrorists have flown numerous bombs and incendiary devices into Israeli territory from the Palestinian enclave with the aid of helium-filled balloons, at times prompting retaliatory strikes from the Israel Defense Forces.

The tactic of launching balloons carrying explosive and arson devices from Gaza into Israel emerged in 2018 as part of a series of protests and riots along the Strip’s border, known collectively as the March of Return. The simple and cheap method of attack by Palestinians has proved effective as Israeli security forces have struggled to counter the tactic, but had largely stopped over half a year ago.

A senior Hamas official said Tuesday that the recent spate of balloons was a signal to Israel to accelerate unofficial “understandings” meant to ease the blockade on the territory ruled by the terror group.

Speaking to journalists, Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said the balloons had been launched by disgruntled individuals, not Hamas. But he said his group was “satisfied” with the launches and is ready to send more “if the occupation doesn’t pick up the message.”

The UN’s Mideast envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, called the renewed balloon launches “concerning and regrettable” in a briefing to the Security Council on Tuesday. “These actions are a risk to the civilian population,” he said.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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