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Egyptian envoys leave Gaza after bid to ease Israel tensions

Mediators move on to Israel, after apparently failing to to get results with Hamas; arson balloons continue, causing 20 fires, including in kindergarten

An Israeli police officer inspects the damage to a home after it was hit by a rocket fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip, in Sderot on August 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
An Israeli police officer inspects the damage to a home after it was hit by a rocket fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip, in Sderot on August 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Egyptian mediators were in the Gaza Strip on Monday in an effort to reduce tensions and prevent a new cross-border conflict between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas, but departed without appearing to have secured a resolution.

Mediators typically announce any agreements before leaving the territory. But after a day of meetings with officials from Hamas, the three Egyptian general intelligence envoys left for Israel, according to Adel Abdelrahman, a Gaza-based advisor to the Egyptian mediators. They made no declaration before departing.

The urgent visit came as hostilities broke out along the Gaza-Israel frontier after months of calm due in part to leaders from both sides being occupied by the coronavirus crisis.

For the past week, Palestinian youth groups affiliated with Hamas, the terror group that seized control of Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, have fired incendiary balloons toward Israel, setting swaths of farmland on fire. Israel, which holds Hamas responsible for violence emanating from the territory, responded with airstrikes on Hamas military sites, banned Gaza’s fishermen from taking to the sea and shut the main commercial crossing into the territory.

Damage caused by an incendiary ballon that landed outside of a kindergarten in Sderot, August 17, 2020. (Israel Fire Department)

A balloon-borne incendiary device launched from the Gaza Strip was suspected of having started a small fire Monday afternoon outside a kindergarten in the southern town of Sderot.

Firefighters were called to the scene and quickly put out the blaze in a plastic closet outside the school.

The blaze was one of 20 fires that erupted in areas surrounding the Gaza Strip on Monday, suspected to have been started by the arson balloons.

Separately, police said a “suspicious item” affixed to a balloon was being neutralized in the southern town of Netivot, after apparently being flown across the border from Gaza.

On Tuesday, the lone power plant in Gaza is scheduled to shut down because the closure of Kerem Shalom crossing has cut fuel supplies, exacerbating the power crisis and leaving Gaza’s 2 million residents with about four hours of electricity a day.

An Israeli firefighter attempts to extinguish a fire caused by a incendiary balloon launched by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, on the Israeli side of the border between Israel and Gaza, Israel on August 16, 2020. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

Hamas says Israel did not honor previous understandings reached with the help of Egypt and Qatar, in which Israel should ease the blockade it has imposed on Gaza since Hamas’ takeover and allow for large-scale projects to help rescue the collapsing economy.

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