Gaza arson balloons spark 14 fires; IDF jeep set ablaze in border riots

Gaza arson balloons spark 14 fires; IDF jeep set ablaze in border riots

Hours after unofficial truce takes effect, 50 Palestinians said wounded as 7,000 protest on Gaza border against US-led economic conference in Bahrain; no reported Israeli injuries

Palestinians clash with Israeli forces on the Israel-Gaza border near Gaza City, June 28, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)
Palestinians clash with Israeli forces on the Israel-Gaza border near Gaza City, June 28, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

Incendiary balloons launched from Gaza sparked 14 fires in southern Israel on Friday, Fire and Rescue Services said, hours after Palestinian media outlets reported that Israel agreed to a number of economic concessions for the Strip in exchange for an end to arson attacks and other violence along the border.

There were no reports of injuries caused by the blazes. The fire department said that as of Friday evening three large blazes were still raging in the Eshkol Regional Council.

Gaza health officials said Israeli security forces shot and injured 50 Palestinians at the border Friday afternoon during riots and mass demonstrations involving some 7,000 protesters, which also saw an IDF jeep set ablaze by an explosive device thrown by protesters.

There were no reported Israeli injuries.

The Hamas-run health ministry said 19 Palestinians were injured by live fire, and said Israeli troops also injured eight paramedic volunteers and one journalist. It was unclear how the remainder for the reported 50 individuals injured sustained their wounds.

Reports in Hebrew-language media said thousands of Palestinians took part in the weekly border protests and riots Friday afternoon, with hundreds launching incendiary balloons and throwing rocks at Israeli troops, who responded with tear gas and occasional live fire.

The IDF said soldiers also identified an attempt to breach the border fence in northern Gaza earlier on Friday.

According to reports, organizers of the weekly “March of Return” protests called for Gazans to protest the unveiling of the Trump administration’s economic stimulus package for the Palestinian economy. The $50 billion proposal unveiled in the Bahraini capital of Manama earlier this week was widely criticized by Palestinians.

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)

Palestinians took to the streets in Gaza and the West Bank this week to protest the Bahrain workshop, burning US and Israelis flags, as well as pictures of US President Donald Trump.

Earlier on Friday, an unnamed Israeli official confirmed that Israel had resumed fuel deliveries that were cut off earlier this week, and extended the fishing zone up to 15 nautical miles from 10 nautical miles. The official said that in return, Hamas “promised to halt the attacks on Israel,” a reference to incendiary balloons launched from the enclave.

Israel does not officially recognize ceasefire deals or negotiations with Hamas, an Islamist terror group which rules Gaza and seeks to destroy Israel.

Palestinian demonstrators chant slogans behind defaced posters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump during a protest against a US-sponsored Middle East economic conference in Bahrain, on June 26, 2019, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip. (Said Khatib/AFP)

This week, approximately 100 fires have been started by balloon-borne arson devices launched from Gaza, according to figures from the local fire department.

There have been no injuries reported in the blazes, most of which have occurred in agricultural fields and grasslands, but they have caused significant damage to crops and wildlife.

Arson attacks picked up considerably in the past week, with teams affiliated with Hamas launching hundreds of helium-inflated balloons and condoms carrying incendiary devices and, in some cases, explosives across the border into Israel.

In response to the ongoing attacks, which represent a breach of an unofficial ceasefire agreement between Israel and terror groups in the Strip, Israel halted the flow of gasoline and diesel fuel into the Gaza Strip Tuesday, a move that drew criticism from human rights advocates, who condemned it as collective punishment.

The restrictions on the fishing zone had also been criticized for punishing fisherman who have no link to the airborne attacks. Last week, Israel extended the fishing zone to 10 nautical miles, after it had been closed entirely for several days.

Palestinians prepare arson balloons near the city of Jabalia in the Gaza Strip, June 25, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

The halting of fuel shipments marked a shift in tack for Israel. Over the past several weeks, the government has used various restrictions on the size of the Strip’s fishing zone as its primary method of retaliating for the arson attacks.

On Tuesday, a senior Hamas member warned Israel that its policies toward Gaza were endangering unofficial ceasefire understandings between the sides.

Earlier this month saw a fresh surge in serious violence between the two sides, including two nights of rocket attacks and retaliatory Israeli air force strikes.

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