Flaming kites and balloons launched from Gaza spark fires in south

Latest blazes come after rockets launched at Israel from Strip in retaliation of targeting Hamas member involved in airborne arson attacks

An illustrative photo of Israeli firefighters battling a fire sparked by a flaming object launched from the Gaza Strip, near the border with Palestinian enclave, of June 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
An illustrative photo of Israeli firefighters battling a fire sparked by a flaming object launched from the Gaza Strip, near the border with Palestinian enclave, of June 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Flaming kites and balloons launched from the Gaza Strip sparked four fires in southern Israel Wednesday.

Though firefighters had the four blazes under control, a number of additional fires broke out near the Kissufim Forest, Channel 10 reported.

The network said firefighters were at the scene combating the blazes. There were no reports of injuries, but the fires have caused extensive damage in recent weeks.

Overnight, the Israeli military carried out a number of strikes in the Gaza Strip in response to the launching of incendiary balloons from the Palestinian enclave toward Israel on Tuesday, which sparked a number of fires.

One of the strikes targeted a car that the army said belonged to a senior Hamas operative involved in the airborne arson attacks. The army said it also used an additional aircraft and a tank to strike two Hamas outposts in the north of the Strip.

File: An explosion is seen in northern Gaza City after an airstrike by Israeli forces on June 20, 2018. (AFP Photo/Abed Abu Ryash)

Palestinians said the vehicle that was hit belonged to one of the Hamas terror group’s field commanders and was parked in Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp. There were no casualties reported, indicating the car was empty at the time.

Terror groups in Gaza launched over a dozen rockets toward Israel in retaliation for the strikes, setting off warning sirens and sending thousands of Israelis to bomb shelters.

At least three rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. There were no reports of casualties or damage in Israel. In addition, no rocket impacts were reported inside Israeli communities.

The Israel Defense Forces issued a warning to Hamas after the rocket attacks, saying the group “would pay the price for the terror and the instability.”

In recent weeks, the military has adopted a policy of targeting Hamas positions in response to repeated incendiary kite and balloon attacks from Gaza in an effort to force the group, which rules the coastal enclave, to stop launching the arson devices and to force others in the Strip to abandon the tactic as well.

However, Hamas is attempting to maintain that the near-constant airborne arson attacks, which have burned thousands of acres of Israeli land, do not warrant retaliatory strikes by Israel and therefore accuses Jerusalem of violating the tacit ceasefire between the two sides.

“Bombings will be answered with bombings,” Hamas said after its rocket attacks on Wednesday.

It was the third such exchange between Israel and Hamas in recent weeks. On June 18 and 20, Hamas and its ally the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched similar rocket and mortar attacks at southern Israel after the IDF conducted airstrikes against Hamas positions in response to repeated arson attacks.

A Palestinian man inspects a destroyed car after an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, which the Israeli military says it destroyed because it belonged to a leader of the incendiary kite and balloon attacks on southern Israel, on June 17, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The Israeli military has carried out multiple warning strikes in recent weeks at groups of Gazans preparing to launch incendiary devices toward Israel. The army has said repeatedly that it will act to prevent the launch of the airborne incendiary devices and explosives.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched countless kites, balloons and inflated latex condoms bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, into Israeli territory, sparking near-daily fires that have burned thousands of acres of farmland, parks and forests.

Israeli leaders have warned that the military is prepared to take more intense offensive action against the phenomenon.

Israeli leaders have been split on how to respond to those responsible for the airborne arson attacks, with some calling for the IDF to shoot the kite flyers and balloon launchers on sight, while others argue that it would be a step too far.

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