Gaza incendiary balloons start 6 fires near Israeli communities
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Gaza incendiary balloons start 6 fires near Israeli communities

Firefighters extinguish blazes; justice minister calls for ‘iron fist’ against Palestinian launchers, saying kites should be treated like rockets on Ashkelon

Illustrative. A firefighter extinguishing a fire in a field near the Gaza Strip that was sparked by a flaming object flown from the Palestinian enclave, on June 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Illustrative. A firefighter extinguishing a fire in a field near the Gaza Strip that was sparked by a flaming object flown from the Palestinian enclave, on June 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Six fires near communities in southern Israel were caused Tuesday by incendiary balloons sent from the Gaza Strip, in another busy day for firefighters battling the new Palestinian tactic.

The blazes were started in the areas of Kibbutz Kissufim, Kibbutz Be’eri and Kibbutz Nahal Oz, according to the Israel Fire Department, which said that firefighters and KKL-JNF teams were able to gain control of all fires.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of the security cabinet, toured the Gaza border area on Tuesday and said that the incendiary devices sent flying over the Gaza border into Israel are “no less grave than mortars.”

“A kite at the Gaza border area should be treated like a rocket on (the city of) Ashkelon,” Shaked told reporters.

“The State of Israel must use an iron fist against those who launch incendiary kites and against terror operatives,” she adds.

A balloon loaded with incendiary material is flown toward Israel by Palestinians east of Gaza City on June 29, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched countless kites, balloons and inflated latex condoms bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, into Israeli territory, sparking near-daily fires that have burned thousands of acres of farmland, parks and forests.

On Sunday, the Eshkol region saw some 20 fires caused by incendiary devices, burning large swaths of agricultural fields and grasslands, the spokesperson for the region said.

To combat the near-daily fires, the Israeli military has brought in reservist soldiers to act as firefighters. In addition, most of the communities in the area have recruited residents to serve as first response teams.

Israeli leaders have been split on how to respond to those responsible for the airborne arson attacks, with some calling for the IDF to shoot the kite flyers and balloon launchers on sight, while others argue that it would be a step too far.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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