Gaza balloons start 20 fires in Israel as communities help firefighters
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Gaza balloons start 20 fires in Israel as communities help firefighters

‘This has become a real war,’ says Israeli resident, adding that volunteers are working around the clock to help authorities locate blazes

View of burnt land at the Besor Stream in Tel Gama, near the border with the Gaza Strip, on June 28, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
View of burnt land at the Besor Stream in Tel Gama, near the border with the Gaza Strip, on June 28, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

About 20 fires in Israeli territory were started on Thursday by incendiary balloons and kites sent from the Gaza Strip, in another day of hard work for firefighters struggling to deal with the Palestinian tactic.

The blazes were sparked during the afternoon and early evening in the Eshkol, Sdot Negev, and Shaar Hanegev regions, engulfing communities in smoke, charing nature reserves, and killing many animals in what has lately become a daily routine.

A suspected explosive device was also found in Israeli territory, attached to a balloon, police said, adding that sappers had been called in to neutralize the device.

“This has become a real war,” a resident of Kibbutz Be’eri said of the fires, which in the last few months have burnt more than 30,000 dunam (7,400 acres) of land near the border with the Palestinian enclave.

The man, who didn’t identify himself, told the Ynet news site that local security volunteers in communities near Gaza are actively helping authorities by taking turns keeping watch for fires and quickly directing firefighters to the area.

“We are all committed to this, because if we don’t do it, nobody will,” he said. “We are making use of all our farming tools and vehicles to stop the fires from spreading.”

Dozens of activists from the Women Wage Peace movement demonstrated in burnt areas of the Besor Stream in Tel Gama, near the border, in solidarity with women living in the Gaza envelope communities.

Members of the Women Wage Peace movement march in the burnt area of Besor Stream in Tel Gama, near Kibbutz Re’im, as they demonstrate solidarity with the women of the areas bordering the Gaza Strip, on June 28, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

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.

The IDF has carried out multiple warning strikes in recent weeks at groups of Gazans preparing to launch incendiary devices toward Israel. The army has said repeatedly that it will act to prevent the launch of the airborne incendiary devices and explosives.

Overnight Wednesday, the Israeli military carried out a number of strikes in Gaza in response to the launches. Terror groups in Gaza launched over a dozen rockets toward Israel in retaliation for the strikes, setting off warning sirens and sending thousands of Israelis to bomb shelters.

Illustrative: A masked Palestinian man launches a balloon loaded with flammable materials toward Israel from the southern Gaza town of Rafah on June 17, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

In recent weeks, the military has adopted a policy of targeting Hamas positions in response to repeated incendiary kite and balloon attacks from Gaza in an effort to force the group, which rules the coastal enclave, to stop launching the arson devices and to force others in the Strip to abandon the tactic as well.

However, Hamas is attempting to maintain that the near-constant airborne arson attacks, which have burned thousands of acres of Israeli land, do not warrant retaliatory strikes by Israel and therefore accuses Jerusalem of violating the tacit ceasefire between the two sides.

“Bombings will be answered with bombings,” Hamas said after its rocket attacks on Wednesday.

It was the third such exchange between Israel and Hamas in recent weeks.

Israeli leaders have warned that the military is prepared to take more intense offensive action against the phenomenon.

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