Eight fires erupted in Israeli land near the Gaza Strip on Thursday, as Palestinians in the enclave continued to send incendiary balloons across the border into Israel for a third consecutive day.
Seven fires were reported in open areas of the Eshkol region, and another in a field in the Sha’ar Hanegev region.
Firefighters, along with IDF units and teams from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, worked to bring the flames under control.
On Wednesday, Kan news reported that Israeli officials have considered a strong response to the balloons, but that Egyptian mediators have conveyed that Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza, is not interested in an escalation.
Four major fires were started by balloons on Wednesday.
Overnight Tuesday, the IDF bombed Hamas targets in Gaza in response to a wave of incendiary balloons earlier that day, against the background of a controversial march by Jewish nationalists in Jerusalem.
— דבורה ???????????????? (@devorah555) June 17, 2021
The arson attacks and IDF counterstrikes were the first exchange between terror groups in Gaza and the army since last month’s 11-day conflict in the Strip.
איריס חצור, תושבת ניר משה, מספרת לירון וילנסקי ו-@kobisudri: "הגיעו אלינו שני בלונים ממש לפתח הבית. המטפלת של אמא שלי יצאה החוצה וראתה שכתוב על זה בערבית ושמחובר לזה משהו – היא נבהלה מאוד"
(צילום: באדיבות המרואיינת) pic.twitter.com/j0LliZNpZp
— גלצ (@GLZRadio) June 17, 2021
The retaliatory airstrikes were also the first since Naftali Bennett took over Sunday as premier. The new prime minister has long insisted that the IDF’s response to arson attacks should be the same as for rocket fire, and he has in the past called for killing balloon-launching teams.
On Tuesday, Hamas claimed victory after the march of right-wing Jewish nationalists in Jerusalem’s Old City was rerouted away from the Muslim Quarter, asserting that it had established a “new formula of deterrence,” vis-à-vis Israel.
“The brave positions and decisions of the Palestinian resistance forced the Israeli occupation to change the path of the route away from Al-Aqsa Mosque, change the civil air routes and beef up the deployment of the Iron Dome,” the terror group said.
The parade, the first major test of the new government sworn in Sunday, was rescheduled after the original flag march was halted on Jerusalem Day, May 10, when Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem, setting off 11 days of fighting.
Hamas had threatened to attack Israel again over the rescheduled march, but ultimately refrained from firing rockets, though balloons caused 26 blazes in southern border areas on Tuesday.
Over three acres of lemon tree fields belonging to Kibbutz Nir Am were burned, along with almost an acre’s worth of clementine trees, according to Kan. Wheat fields and tangerine orchards were also burned, with over 30 acres of land torched in total.
According to Channel 12 news on Tuesday, Israel warned Hamas via Egypt that there would be a tough and immediate response to any rocket fire from Gaza.
The network also noted Hamas’s frustration over the stalling of the latest installation of monthly aid from Qatar. The payment of millions of dollars has not been transferred since last month’s Gaza war, with Israel refusing to allow it unless the terror group releases two civilians and two bodies of IDF soldiers that it has been holding captive. Egypt has also opposed restarting the Qatari payments, insisting that a new mechanism be used to transfer them to Gaza so that they do not reach Hamas directly