Following Gaza border blazes, ‘terror kites’ see first use in West Bank

Homemade flying devices sent over Jewish settlements; one stikes power line, causing outage in area for several hours

A kite flown from Gaza into southern Israel, June 6, 2018. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
A kite flown from Gaza into southern Israel, June 6, 2018. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Mimicking tactics that have been increasingly used as part of violent Gaza border protests in recent weeks, Palestinians in the West Bank launched what are believed to be the first incendiary kites used there Thursday.

The kites were flown over the settlements of Matan, Yarhiv and Nirit, three Jewish communities in the West Bank near the central Israeli city of Kfar Saba.

One of the kites caused a fire in a field, which was quickly put out without major damage, while another struck a power line, causing a power outage in the area for several hours.

Hundreds of incendiary kites have been flown over the Gaza border as part of the weekly Palestinian protests, dubbed the “March of Return,” beginning in March.

Based on Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s assessment Monday that 600 such balloons and kites have been sent over the border with some 400 of them intercepted by the IDF, and 200 that landed in Israeli territory, sparking 198 fires.

Some 17,500 dunams (4,300 acres, or nearly seven square miles) of land on the Israeli side of the Gaza border have been burned in the fires over the past two months, more than half of them in nature reserves, according to initial assessments.

The fires, specifically those in the nature reserves, have also wreaked havoc on local wildlife, according to ecologists.

Beeri Crater following a fire sparked by kites, with Gaza in the background, June 6, 2018. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

According to the Nature and Parks Authority, approximately 10,000 dunams in parks and reserves in southern Israel were burned, although a spokesperson for the authority said investigations were still underway to determine exactly how much of that was caused by incendiary kites and balloons, and how much was from other sources.

Helium balloons were added recently to some kites to enable the burning fuel to fly further. In both cases, the flying object is fitted with a long string to which a Molotov cocktail or burning fuel is attached.

In two months of mass protests at the Gaza border, some 110 Palestinians were killed and thousands wounded by Israeli military fire. Dozens of the fatalities were members of terror groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad acknowledged. Israel said its troops were defending its border and accused Hamas of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of the protests.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that in order to cover the cost of damage to the fields, the government would withhold funds from the Palestinian Authority.

The decision raised eyebrows among Israeli analysts, who pointed out that the PA does not control the Gaza Strip. Indeed, the Authority’s primary rival, the Hamas terror group, has ruled the enclave since ousting the PA in 2007.

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