Gaza incendiary balloons spark dozens of fires in southern Israel
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Gaza incendiary balloons spark dozens of fires in southern Israel

At least 30 blazes reported in areas close to the border, putting Thursday on track to have the most arson attacks in a single day

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

  • A firefighter works to extinguish a blaze caused by an incendiary device from the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Fire and Rescue Services)
    A firefighter works to extinguish a blaze caused by an incendiary device from the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Fire and Rescue Services)
  • Firefighters work to extinguish a blaze caused by an incendiary device from the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Fire and Rescue Services)
    Firefighters work to extinguish a blaze caused by an incendiary device from the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Fire and Rescue Services)
  • A firefighter works to extinguish a blaze caused by an incendiary device from the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Fire and Rescue Services)
    A firefighter works to extinguish a blaze caused by an incendiary device from the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Fire and Rescue Services)
  • A firefighter works to extinguish a blaze caused by an incendiary device from the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Fire and Rescue Services)
    A firefighter works to extinguish a blaze caused by an incendiary device from the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Fire and Rescue Services)
  • A fire caused by an incendiary device from the Gaza Strip rages in an agricultural field in the Sha'ar Hanegev region of southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Sha'ar Hanegev regional council)
    A fire caused by an incendiary device from the Gaza Strip rages in an agricultural field in the Sha'ar Hanegev region of southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Sha'ar Hanegev regional council)
  • A firefighter works to extinguish a blaze caused by an incendiary device from the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Fire and Rescue Services)
    A firefighter works to extinguish a blaze caused by an incendiary device from the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Fire and Rescue Services)
  • A military firefighter works to extinguish a blaze caused by an incendiary device from the Gaza Strip in a field in the Sha'ar Hanegev region of southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Sha'ar Hanegev regional council)
    A military firefighter works to extinguish a blaze caused by an incendiary device from the Gaza Strip in a field in the Sha'ar Hanegev region of southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Sha'ar Hanegev regional council)

Massive waves of balloon-borne incendiary devices were launched from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel throughout Thursday, sparking over two dozen fires throughout the area, according to estimates by Israeli authorities.

The rash of arson attacks put Thursday on pace to see the largest number of fires started by Gazan balloons in a single day since Palestinians began launching airborne incendiary devices over a year ago.

According to the Fire and Rescue Services and local governments, at least 30 fires of varying sizes had been started in southern Israel throughout Thursday, including 17 large ones that were confirmed by investigators to have been started by arson balloons.

Firefighters from Fire and Rescue Services, the military, Jewish National Fund, the Parks Authority and local volunteers were all called in to assist in the effort to extinguish the blazes.

Since Sunday, there have been approximately 100 fires started by balloon-borne arson devices, according to figures from the local fire department.

There have been no injuries reported in these blazes, most of which have occurred in agricultural fields and grasslands, but they have caused significant damage to crops and wildlife. Several fires were also reported inside Israeli communities in the Sha’ar Hanegev, Sdot Negev and Eshkol regions.

A balloon-borne incendiary device also landed just outside a home in the Eshkol region, where it was quickly extinguished before the fire could spread, an Eshkol spokesperson said.

As of Thursday evening, there was no response by the military or government to the day’s fires. On Tuesday, Israel cut fuel supplies to Gaza’s power plant in a punitive measure against the uptick in fire balloons.

A balloon-borne incendiary device lands outside a home in the Eshkol region of southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Eshkol regional council)

MK Alon Shuster, a Blue and White lawmaker from Kibbutz Mefalsim, where a balloon from Gaza sparked a fire on Thursday, accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government of ignoring the incendiary attacks.

“The fire has reached inside Kibbutz Mefalsim,” he said in a statement. “Soldiers, security officials, firefighters and kibbutz members are working to put it out. But we get the impression that Netanyahu doesn’t care at all.”

He added: “The resilience of the residents of the south will weather any challenge, but the neglect by the Israeli government has reached the point of criminal negligence, and it’s time that someone said so.”

Arson attacks have picked up considerably in the past week, with teams affiliated with the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group launching hundreds of helium-inflated balloons and condoms carrying incendiary devices and, in some cases, explosives across the border into Israel.

In general, the incendiary devices consist of a burning piece of burlap or other fabric soaked in fuel, which is connected to one or several balloons. There have also been cases of larger clusters of balloons carrying model drones and small bombs being launched toward Israel. The easterly winds coming off the Mediterranean Sea push the balloons into Israeli territory.

An Israeli soldier battles a fire started by an incendiary device launched from Gaza Strip in southern Israel on June 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

In response to the ongoing attacks, which represent a breach of an unofficial ceasefire agreement between Israel and terror groups in the Strip, Israel halted the flow of gasoline and diesel fuel into the Gaza Strip Tuesday, a move which drew criticism from human rights advocates, who condemned it as collective punishment.

On Wednesday, incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip started 19 fires in southern Israel, according to the local fire department.

The halting of fuel shipments marked a shift in tack for Israel. Over the past several weeks, the government has used various restrictions on the size of the Strip’s fishing zone as its primary method of retaliating to the arson attacks.

On Tuesday, a senior Hamas member warned Tuesday that Israeli policies toward Gaza were endangering unofficial ceasefire understandings between the sides.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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