Facing flaming kite threat, IDF could shoot Gazans who fly them – report

Army mulls ways to counter airborne Molotov cocktails from the Strip, including using drones to shoot them down

Illustrative: Palestinian protesters fly a kite with a burning rag dangling from its tail, during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, April 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Illustrative: Palestinian protesters fly a kite with a burning rag dangling from its tail, during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, April 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The Israeli military is considering dramatically escalating its responses to firebomb-bearing kites from Gaza that have set a large number of blazes around Israeli towns, including, reportedly, shooting those who launch them.

The tactic, in which a Molotov cocktail is attached to a kite and sent flying over the border into Israel, caused its largest blaze yet on Wednesday, with one fire consuming dozens of acres of grasslands and agricultural fields and burning for six hours near Kibbutz Be’eri despite the best efforts of ten firefighting teams.

For the past several weeks, Gazans have been regularly flying kites outfitted with containers of burning fuel, often including charcoal and bags of sugar to ensure a long, slow burn. The tactic was introduced as part of the “March of Return” demonstrations at the border fence, which began on March 30 and are due to continue through mid-May.

The mass protests are being encouraged by the terror group Hamas, which rules Gaza, and whose leaders say their goal is the erase the border and “liberate Palestine.”

Smoke and flames rise from grassland Kibbutz Be’eri in southern Israel after Palestinians flew a kite laden with a Molotov cocktail over the border on May 2, 2018. (Screen capture/Rafi Bavian)

With the number of kite attacks now reaching as many as 15 per day, military planners have begun to consider new measures to end the practice, including options drawn from the IDF’s responses to rocket launches and other terror attacks.

According to Hadashot TV news and Channel 10, the army is now considering retaliating for kite launches with airstrikes against Hamas infrastructure, as it does each time a rocket is launched from Gaza toward Israel.

It is also considering deploying special ground-based snipers and airborne drones capable of destroying the kites in the air — and, Hadashot said, of targeting those on the ground in Gaza launching the kites.

The new options being considered have not yet been implemented, but, the reports said, reflect the army’s growing determination to end the phenomenon before it sparks a fire that turns deadly in a populated area within Israel.

Wednesday’s fire near Be’eri, which spread across dozens of acres, was the largest to date. That was likely due to the weather conditions — dry, windy, and hot — that are ideal for fires to spread.

Palestinians hold a kite adorned with a swastika that is carrying a bombnear the border with Israel east of Gaza City, on April 20, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

IDF soldiers succeeded in preventing another fire on Wednesday, reaching a kite bearing a container of burning fuel from Gaza as it touched down inside Israel and putting it out with handheld fire extinguishers.

Wednesday’s conflagration covered swaths of grassland and agricultural fields in an area known as the Be’eri Forest, which has seen multiple fires caused by kites in recent weeks.

Lacking the means and official orders to do more to prevent the arson-by-kite attacks, IDF soldiers have reacted mostly by tracking kites heading over the border and alerting firefighters to reach their landing areas.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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