Gaza balloon carrying RPG warhead lands near Ashkelon home

Police sappers called to defuse object in southern city; none hurt in incident

A bunch of balloons attached to an incendiary device is prepared to be flown into Israel, near the Israel-Gaza border east of Al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, January 22, 2020. (Ail Ahmed/ Flash90)
A bunch of balloons attached to an incendiary device is prepared to be flown into Israel, near the Israel-Gaza border east of Al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, January 22, 2020. (Ail Ahmed/ Flash90)

A balloon apparently carrying the warhead of a rocket-propelled grenade was found near a house in the city of Ashkelon Friday morning. It was apparently flown across the border from the Gaza Strip.

Police sappers were called to the scene to defuse the suspect device. No one was hurt in the incident.

A similar balloon carrying an RPG was found in southern Israel on Tuesday. The warhead was found outside the community of Alumim. There have been several cases of RPGs being attached to balloons in recent weeks. Balloons regularly carry improvised bombs and incendiary devices from Gaza into Israel.

Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip began sending clusters of balloons and kites into Israel laden with explosives beginning in 2018. The practice has waxed and waned over that time, but has picked up considerably in recent weeks, with dozens of such balloon-borne bombs landing in towns and farming communities adjacent to the Palestinian enclave.

On February 5, the military restricted Gaza’s permitted fishing zone down to 10 nautical miles and canceled some 500 travel permits after weeks of regular rocket fire and the launching of balloon-borne explosive devices into Israel from Gaza.

On Tuesday Israel said it would to extend the fishing zone back to 15 nautical miles and increase the number of travel permits from the Strip to 2,000, following three days of relative calm in the coastal enclave.

It said those eased restrictions would continue only if calm remains.

Also on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military was planning a “big surprise” for Hamas if the terrorist group failed to rein in violence aimed at southern Israel, amid reports that Israel was contemplating the assassination of two senior Hamas leaders.

In a pre-election interview with Army Radio, Netanyahu said: “Hamas and the other terrorist organizations such as Islamic Jihad, whose commander [Baha Abu al-Ata] we eliminated a few weeks ago, have to understand that either there is complete quiet and they rein in the rogue factions — shoot them in the knees, that’s the way — or we will have no choice but to launch our operational programs. I can’t share what they are, but I can say it will be a big surprise.”

Palestinian men prepare an incendiary device to be flown toward Israel, near the Israel-Gaza border, in the eastern part of the Gaza Strip, February 7, 2020. (Fadi Fahd/Flash90)

The prime minister said he would not subject any decision on Gaza to “political timetables,” with the March 2 election less than two weeks away, adding that he would “choose the right time to take action.”

Also Tuesday, the London-based pan-Arab website Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported that an Egyptian intelligence delegation that visited the Gaza Strip did so after receiving information that Israel was planning to assassinate two prominent Hamas figures.

The website said it had been told by sources that Cairo had persuaded Israel to suspend a decision to assassinate Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and Marwan Issa, the leader of its military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

Israel made a similar announcement about plans to end its “sanctions” against Gaza last Thursday, with a defense official saying Israel had received messages from Hamas indicating it would halt the violence along the border.

Two days later, two rockets were fired toward the community of Kibbutz Kissufim, just east of the Gaza border, in the Eshkol region, striking an open field. Following the attack, Israel announced it would not be changing the fishing zone or adding the work permits. Over the weekend, the IDF attacked targets in Gaza in retaliation for rocket strikes.

No Israelis have been injured physically by the latest round of rocket and airborne explosives, though some have raised concerns of the potential psychological damage caused by this extended period of tension and violence.

Illustrative: Palestinian men prepare a flammable object to be flown toward Israel, near the Israel-Gaza border east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on January 18, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

Israeli defense officials believe that the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group was trying to increase pressure on Israel in a bid to extract greater concessions in ceasefire negotiations.

Last Saturday’s rocket fire came amid reports of an emerging ceasefire between Israel and terror groups in the Strip. The potential breakthrough between Israel and the terror group came after the Egyptian military and the United Nations intervened, sending in delegations the previous week, according to Palestinian reports.

A Hamas official told a Lebanese newspaper on Saturday that the terror group had only decided to reduce the number of incendiary balloons launched toward Israel, not stop them entirely. This came after an Israeli defense official told reporters that Hamas had “sent messages to Israel that they’d decided unilaterally to stop launching balloons and rocket fire at Israel.”

The Lebanese pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper, citing an unnamed Hamas official, said that the number of launches would be reduced only after Israel met the group’s demands.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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