A group of young Palestinians who have been launching incendiary kites and balloons into southern Israel threatened to step up their activities on Sunday, after several of their number were injured in Israeli airstrikes earlier in the day.
The self-styled “Sons of Zouari” said they would conduct a “high-quality response” against Israel in light of the military’s increasingly forceful retaliations for the Palestinian group’s airborne arson attacks, according to information shared on Palestinian social media and a source, who asked to remain anonymous.
Throughout the day on Sunday, the Israel Defense Forces conducted three drone strikes against Palestinians launching incendiary kites and balloons at southern Israel, injuring three of them, Palestinian media reported.
The first of those strikes occurred around noon, east of the Palestinian town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip. According to Palestinian media, one person was injured in the airstrike.
The Israeli military confirmed it conducted a strike, saying the Palestinians who were targeted were members of the Hamas terrorist organization, which rules the Strip.
The second came just over an hour later, in the southern Gaza Strip. No injuries were reported.
The third occurred shortly after 5 p.m., again east of Beit Hanoun. The spokesman for the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, Ashraf al-Qidra, said two were wounded in that airstrike.
Such airborne arson attacks have sparked numerous fires throughout southern Israel since April. According to Israeli officials, the practice began on a small-scale basis and was then quickly adopted and encouraged by Hamas.
The kites and balloons, some of which are boobytrapped, have wreaked havoc in the Israeli communities surrounding the Gaza Strip, sparking fires that have scorched over 7,000 acres of land and caused millions of shekels in damage.
On Sunday, the security cabinet ordered the military to take a more aggressive stance against the arson attacks.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday reiterated that Israel would not tolerate the continued kite and balloon arson attacks that have burned tens of thousands of dunams of forests and agricultural land, including at least six fresh fires started on Sunday.
Until now, the IDF has largely refrained from firing directly at the kite flyers and balloon launchers, instead shooting near them as a warning or striking the infrastructure they use to carry out the attacks.
In some cases, the military later conducted airstrikes against Hamas positions, in response to these incendiary kites and balloons.
The threats by the “Sons of Zouari” came hours after a fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hamas went into effect, following one of the most severe exchanges of fire between Israel and Hamas since the 2014 war.
Over the weekend, Palestinian terrorists fired some 200 rockets and missiles at Israeli communities near the Gaza border. In response, the IDF struck dozens of Hamas targets in the Strip.
Netanyahu said Hamas was hit “substantially and hard” in the overnight Israeli strikes.
“Our policy is clear: Whoever hurts us, we will hit them with great strength. This is what we did yesterday,” he said. “I hope that they got the message; if not, they will get it later.”
The prime minister denied reports that said the ceasefire brokered by Egypt did not include the cessation of the arson attacks.
“This is incorrect. We are not prepared to accept any attacks against us and we will respond appropriately,” he added.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman also warned Hamas that it would “pay a heavy price,” if it did not cease hostilities.
“It’s important to emphasize that we have no intention of tolerating this — not rockets, not kites, not drones — nothing,” he said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “I hope that Hamas has drawn conclusions, and if they haven’t, they will need to pay a heavy price.”