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Gaza balloon with ‘suspicious flashlight’ lands in southern Israel

Police sappers called to cotton field in Eshkol region to investigate suspected explosive device flown in from the Palestinian coastal enclave

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

Balloons carrying a flashlight wrapped in a balloon, suspected of containing an explosive device, which were flown into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip and were found in a cotton field on July 2, 2018. (Eshkol regional council)
Balloons carrying a flashlight wrapped in a balloon, suspected of containing an explosive device, which were flown into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip and were found in a cotton field on July 2, 2018. (Eshkol regional council)

Police sappers were called to a cotton field in southern Israel after balloons carrying a suspected explosive device was found there on Monday morning, officials said.

The balloons, one of them reading “I ♥ you,” touched down in the field outside one of the communities in the Eshkol region, with a “suspicious flashlight” attached to it, a spokesperson for the regional council said.

The concern was that an explosive could be hidden inside the flashlight.

“Police forces, who were dispatched in response to a suspicious balloon, began responding to the suspicious object in order to remove the threat,” police said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear if the flashlight in fact contained explosives.

A flashlight wrapped in a balloon, suspected of containing an explosive device, that was flown into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip, which was found in a cotton field on July 2, 2018. (Eshkol regional council)

The balloons came a day after a large number of fires wreaked havoc in southern Israel, burning large swaths of agricultural fields and grasslands.

The Eshkol region on Sunday saw some 20 fires caused by kites and balloons carrying incendiary devices, the spokesperson for the region said.

To combat the near-daily fires, the Israeli military has brought in reservist soldiers to act as firefighters. In addition, most of the communities in the area have recruited residents to serve as first response teams.

“Many dozens of balloons and kites have been launched into our region, and thanks to the heightened awareness of residents and the increased activities of the security coordinators and security forces we have succeeded in preventing no small number of arson attempts and the spread of fires,” the Eshkol region said on Sunday night.

An illustrative photo of a firefighter extinguishing a fire in a field near the Gaza Strip that was sparked by a flaming object flown from the Palestinian enclave, on June 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The threat of arson attacks is not a situation that we are prepared to accept as a routine part of our lives, and this message has been passed on consistently to the relevant figures and decision-makers,” the region said.

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 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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