Gaza groups said to call halt to incendiary balloon attacks on Israel

Report comes a day after Egyptian security delegation visited Strip, where it reportedly conveyed an Israeli threat of military action to Hamas

Adam Rasgon is a former Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

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)

Factions in Gaza have decided to halt the launching of balloon-borne explosive devices from the Gaza Strip into Israel, the al-Quds daily reported on Tuesday, citing an “on-the-ground source.”

The al-Quds report came less than a day after an Egyptian security delegation concluded a visit to Gaza, where it met Hamas terror group officials and toured the border region between the coastal enclave and Egypt.

The decision to stop sending incendiary balloons from Gaza to Israel was made Monday night and conveyed to all launching units Tuesday morning, the source told the newspaper.

The report said that the leaders of the balloon launching units, which are believed to be affiliated with various factions, made the decision.

The past several weeks have seen a marked uptick in the launch of balloon-borne explosive devices from Gaza into Israel, including one apparent such device found close to a kindergarten in a border community on Tuesday.

The Israel Police said that sappers were called to dispose of the device found in Kibbutz Sa’ad and that there were no reports of injuries or damage.

The Israel Defense Forces says it has responded to recent rocket and incendiary balloon attacks with airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza.

An official in one of the Palestinian factions in Gaza did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Lebanese pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper reported earlier on Tuesday, citing unnamed sources in Palestinian terror groups, that the Egyptian delegation had conveyed a message from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Hamas in which he demanded “a return to calm.”

The sources told the daily that Netanyahu’s message, which the Egyptian delegation received from Israeli security officials in Tel Aviv on Sunday, included a threat that Israel would “deliver a major blow to Hamas with American and international cover” if calm does not resume.

Since the second half of 2018, Egypt, alongside the United Nations and Qatar, has played a key role in brokering informal ceasefire understandings between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Israel.

The understandings have largely entailed Israel lifting restrictions on the movement of goods and people into and out of Gaza, in exchange for Hamas maintaining relative quiet in the border region between the Strip and the Jewish state.

Palestinian women, one holding a picture of Hamas movement chief Ismail Haniyeh, attend a mass rally marking the 32nd anniversary of the founding of Hamas on December 14, 2019, in Gaza city. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

Hamas officials told the Egyptian delegation in response to Netanyahu’s message that it “does not seek an escalation,” but “the economic pressure that Gazans are experiencing and the failure to implement calming understandings will create greater pressure on the border region,” the sources told al-Akhbar.

“There will be no free calm as long as there is procrastination, delay and tightening [of restrictions],” the sources also quoted the Hamas officials as saying.

Hamas has frequently accused Israel of dragging its feet in implementing the understandings.

The Egyptian delegation’s visit to Gaza on Sunday was its first to the coastal enclave since September.

Tensions recently spiked between Hamas and Egypt after the terror group’s chief, Ismail Haniyeh, visited Iran in January and participated in the funeral of slain general Qassem Soleimani, many Arabic-language news outlets have reported.

Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said in late January that Egypt rebuked Hamas over Haniyeh’s visit to Iran.

“Our brothers in Egypt scolded us for visiting Iran, but [Hamas] has its own independent stance,” Hayya told reporters in Gaza on January 21.

Egypt is allied with a number of Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which view Iran as a regional foe.

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