Gaza incendiary balloons spark dozens of fires in south for 4th straight day

Police sappers work to defuse suspicious device attached to balloon; airborne attacks come amid heightened tensions in Jerusalem, West Bank

A field burns near Sderot in southern Israel on May 9, 2021. (Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council)
A field burns near Sderot in southern Israel on May 9, 2021. (Sha'ar Hanegev Regional Council)

Firefighting teams were working on Sunday in southern Israel to extinguish fires caused by balloons carrying incendiary devices that were launched from the Gaza Strip.

According to fire services, teams responded to dozens of blazes in the region.

Amid the fires, Israel Railways said it had temporarily shut down train service between the Ashkelon and Netivot stations due to a blaze that broke out near the southern town of Sderot. The station at Sderot was also closed temporarily.

Additionally, police said sappers were working near Kibbutz Gevim to defuse a suspicious device attached to a balloon that was found in the area.

There were no reports of injuries or danger to nearby towns.

The fires came amid reports from the so-called “balloon units” in the Gaza Strip saying that they had begun to launch balloon-borne incendiary devices toward southern Israel. Sunday marked the fourth straight day of such attacks.

The attacks came amid rising tensions in Jerusalem, the West Bank and along the Gaza border. Police bolstered their presence in Jerusalem on Saturday following violent clashes that saw some 200 Palestinians and 17 Israeli police officers wounded.

The tensions are related to the holy month of Ramadan in the Temple Mount, as well as the potential eviction of dozens of Palestinians from East Jerusalem’s Sheik Jarrah neighborhood in favor of Jewish tenants, in a case that is being reviewed by the courts.

Recent days saw over a dozen fires sparked in the Gaza border area as a result of incendiary balloons. Gaza’s so-called “independent balloon unit” warned on Thursday that “this is just the beginning.” Another smaller unit affiliated with the Gaza-based Mujahideen Brigades terror group announced on Saturday morning they had begun to mobilize their members to start launching balloons.

Masked Hamas members apparently prepare incendiary balloons to be launched toward Israel from the Gaza Strip, May 8, 2021 (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

The practice of launching balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices from the Gaza Strip toward Israel has waxed and waned over the past two years, though there have been relatively few launches until the past few days. The Israeli government and Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group have been engaged in indirect talks about a long-term ceasefire.

Earlier this month, terrorists in Gaza launched dozens of rockets at southern Israel. Most of the rockets landed in open fields, where they caused no injury or damage, but a few struck inside Israeli communities, with shrapnel hitting buildings and vehicles.

On Friday, three Palestinians opened fire toward a Border Police base in Israeli territory near the northern West Bank, with two of the attackers killed and one wounded when officers on the scene returned fire.

Israeli yeshiva student Yehuda Guetta was shot in a Palestinian terror attack in the West Bank earlier this week. He died of his wounds on Wednesday night.

Emanuel Fabian and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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