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Gaza incendiary balloons spark fresh fires in south

Three small blazes put out quickly, but IDF reportedly bracing for more violence should ceasefire talks in Cairo break down

Firefighters respond to a fire at Kissufim Forest in southern Israel, on August 23, 2021. (Moshe Baruchi/KKL)
Firefighters respond to a fire at Kissufim Forest in southern Israel, on August 23, 2021. (Moshe Baruchi/KKL)

Incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza Strip on Monday sparked three fires in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council near the Gaza Strip, local authorities said.

Fire and Rescue Services along with KKL-JNF Jewish National Fund volunteers managed to put out the fires before they could cause significant damage.

Investigators determined that the fires had been started by incendiary devices, the Israel Fire and Rescue Service said. Gazans have continued to launch incendiary devices attached to kites or balloons into Israel despite warnings from Jerusalem of zero tolerance for such attacks.

Tensions with Gaza have remained high amid intensified efforts to shore up a ceasefire brokered after May’s war between Israel and Gaza-based terrorists and create a new arrangement for bringing Qatari cash into the Strip to ease poverty there.

The Israel Defense Force’s Southern Command was preparing on Monday for the possibility that ceasefire talks managed by Cairo could break down, leading to an upsurge in violence and renewed rioting on the border.

Over the weekend, Hamas spokesman Abdel Latif al-Qanou warned in a statement that, “Our Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip are determined to extract all their demands and break the siege on the Gaza Strip and no longer accept the gradual easing [of restrictions].”

He added that “our people’s options are open and all tools and means are available to pressure the occupation and oblige it to lift the siege on our people.”

Qatar and Egypt have been closely involved in efforts to improve conditions in Gaza in the wake of May’s 11-day war between Israel and Hamas, including the transfer of aid to the needy, greater allowances for goods and building materials to enter the Strip and more.

Palestinians gather, on September 2, 2021, during a nighttime protest along the border fence with Israel, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip (Said Khatib/AFP)

A plan was recently announced to allow Qatari aid back into Gaza, but many other issues remain unresolved.

The past week saw an increase in protests along the border as so-called “night confusion units” held nightly demonstrations, setting tires alight at the border and lobbing improvised explosives at Israeli troops.

The “night confusion units” do not officially tie themselves to Hamas, though their activities could not take place without the approval of the terror group that rules the Strip.

The riots came at the same time as Israel allowed dozens of truckloads of construction materials into the Strip.

Speaking to defense officials Monday night, Israel Defense Forces chief Aviv Kohavi warned that Israel would not tolerate the border riots.

The most severe recent border riots took place on August 21. The violent protest saw hundreds of Palestinian protesters approach the fence, throw stones, and burn tires. Israeli troops responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, and a form of live fire.

Palestinians burn tires during a protest along the border fence with Israel, east of Gaza City in the central Gaza Strip, on August 30, 2021. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

An Israeli Border Police officer, Barel Shmueli, 21, was shot at point-blank range when a Palestinian man approached a slit in a barrier where Shmueli was stationed and fired a pistol at him. He was critically injured and later died.

Two Palestinians who took part in the protest, including a 13-year-old boy and a member of the Hamas terror group with rules the Strip, were shot by troops and also later died.

Last month, Qatar and the United Nations announced that they had signed an agreement to return some Qatari subsidies to the Gaza Strip.

The funds do not include payments to Hamas civil servants, who also received cash from Qatar before the May conflict between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza Strip.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that the new mechanism “ensures the money reaches those in need, while maintaining Israel’s security needs.”

Under the somewhat convoluted arrangement, Qatar will deposit the funds each month in a UN bank account in New York, from which it will be transferred to an unspecified Palestinian bank in Ramallah and from there to a branch in the Gaza Strip.

The Gaza branch will then issue the $100 stipends to the recipients in the form of reloadable debit cards. Israel will oversee who receives these cards.

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