IDF chief visits border, praises soldiers who stopped attack

Fire sparked in southern Israel by Gaza balloon, as border tensions heat up

Blaze quickly extinguished in first arson case in a week; attack comes hours after gunman killed as he opened fire at IDF troops

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

A firefighter works to extinguish a blaze caused by an incendiary device from the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Fire and Rescue Services)
A firefighter works to extinguish a blaze caused by an incendiary device from the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Fire and Rescue Services)

A balloon-borne incendiary device launched from the Gaza Strip sparked a fire in southern Israel Sunday, the local fire department said, amid rising tensions along the border.

The blaze was quickly extinguished and did not spread, a spokesperson for the fire department said in a statement.

“An investigator from the Ashkelon Station of the Fire and Rescue Services determined that the fire was caused by an incendiary balloon,” the spokesman said.

Attacks such as these have largely ceased in recent weeks, following an unofficial ceasefire agreement that was reached between Israel and the Hamas terror group in June.

The arson attack came hours after Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian gunman who opened fire at them while attempting to sneak into Israel from Gaza early Sunday, the military said, in the third infiltration attempt by armed terrorists from the Gaza Strip into Israel in 10 days.

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi meets with soldiers who monitor security cameras along the Gaza border and spotted an armed terrorist approaching the area on August 11, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi visited the border area on Sunday, meeting with regional commanders, as well as with the troops involved in the clash earlier in the day.

“Your job is to protect the country’s borders and to protect the citizens of the State of Israel, and that is what you did here in this latest incident and with great success,” Kohavi told the soldiers.

The army said Kohavi also visited the area where the attack happened and heard “presentations on troop preparedness and how they operate” from the commanders.

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi meets with soldiers who are part of a unit that shot dead an armed terrorist who opened fire at them along the Gaza border on August 11, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry identified the terrorist behind the Sunday morning attack as Marwan Nasser, 26. His body was taken from the border area to the Indonesian Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip.

Graphic photographs of the slain assailant shared on Palestinian social media showed him in fatigues with an AK-47 assault rifle at his side as medics come to move his body from the border area. Additional images from the morgue showed him wearing a green bandanna associated with the Hamas terror group’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, indicating that he was a member of the Gaza-ruling organization.

The terror group did not release an official statement on the border clash as of Sunday morning.

In response to the attempted infiltration, the IDF shelled a number of observation posts along the border controlled by Hamas, whom Israel holds responsible for all violence coming out of the Strip, the army said.

No Israeli soldiers were injured, nor was any damage caused to their vehicles, the IDF said. The military said the infiltration attempt did not present a threat to the nearby Israeli communities.

The incident came a day after the army said it killed four heavily armed Palestinians who attempted to sneak into Israel. A Hamas statement condemned Israel’s killing of the four Palestinians as a “crime,” but did not take responsibility for the attempted attack.

On August 1, a Palestinian man in a Hamas uniform sneaked across the border and opened fire on three soldiers, wounding them. He was killed by return fire. Hamas did not take responsibility for his actions.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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