For 3rd time in a day, IDF conducts airstrikes over Gaza ‘fire balloons’

Police sappers defuse several small explosive devices flown into southern Israel by balloon, as fires break out across region

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Two balloons flown by Palestinians in Gaza carrying an explosive device land on the roof of an Israeli home near the border, on June 17.. 2018. (Israel Police)
Two balloons flown by Palestinians in Gaza carrying an explosive device land on the roof of an Israeli home near the border, on June 17.. 2018. (Israel Police)

The Israeli Air Force attacked three targets connected to a group of Palestinians who had launched incendiary balloons into southern Israel on Sunday evening, in the third round of airstrikes of the day, the army said.

The airstrikes, which caused no casualties, came as multiple balloons with small explosive devices touched down in southern Israel and others bearing pouches of burning material set fire to large swaths of land in the area.

Palestinian media reported that the early evening strikes were conducted by a drone east of the Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

The army said it first fired a warning shot near the Palestinians who were launching the balloons toward Israel. Approximately half an hour later, the Israel Defense Forces said it conducted a second round of strikes, hitting the tent in which the group was operating and a car that had been used to bring people to the area.

No Palestinian injuries were reported.

A police sapper arrives on the scene after a balloon with a suspected explosive device attached to it is found in southern Israel on June 17, 2018. (Israel Police)

Earlier, police sappers had been called to handle three separate cases of balloons carrying suspected small explosive devices that landed in southern Israel.

One got caught in a fence outside of a home in the Sdot Hanegev region, another landed in the town of Sderot and was brought to the municipality’s security officer, and the third was found stuck in a tree outside the town, police said.

It was not clear if these balloons were launched by the same group of Palestinians that the IDF targeted.

In a statement, police called on citizens not to touch or approach the balloons  — as occurred in Sderot — since their payload could explode.

In addition, firefighters were working to put out a number of fires that broke out in the nearby Eshkol region, which were apparently caused by incendiary devices flown into Israel by balloon.

The army has struggled to find a way to stop Palestinians from flying fire kites and balloons into Israel, a tactic that has led to daily blazes in fields in southern Israel and raised fears of airborne IED attacks since the first fire kites on March 30.

In recent days, the military has taken to firing warning shots at groups launching the flaming kites and balloons, which have already burned thousands of acres of farmland, forests and parks, and caused millions of shekels in damage.

The IDF’s attack on Sunday evening was its third airstrike of the day.

On Sunday afternoon, an Israeli aircraft also targeted a group of Palestinians who had sent incendiary balloons into southern Israel from the southern Gaza Strip, near the city of Khan Younis.

In the predawn hours of Sunday, the air force also bombed a car that the army said belonged to one of the leaders of the Gazan kite and balloon 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 army did not name the person targeted or say if they were hit in the airstrike.

The Palestinian Shehab news agency, linked to Gaza’s Hamas rulers, reported that the airstrike had hit an empty vehicle outside a mosque in Shejaiya early Sunday morning.

There were no reports of injuries.

The strike early Sunday was likely meant as a warning to the unnamed figure that Israel knows where they are and may begin carrying out assassinations from the air, including against figures not actively preparing balloons or kites for launching.

The strike came hours after an Israeli aircraft fired at a group of Palestinians launching incendiary kites and balloons into Israel on Saturday, wounding three people, according to Palestinian media.

Balloons and kites caused fires in at least 20 locations in Israel across the Gaza border on Saturday, destroying hundreds of acres of fields and nature reserves.

The army has signaled in recent days that it may be looking into moving beyond warning shots amid mounting political pressure to prevent the daily attacks from the air.

TOI staff contributed to this report.

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