At least four brush fires were ignited Friday in southern Israel by balloons carrying incendiary devices that were launched from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
Three of the fires ignited in the Kissufim forest, and another one in the Be’eri forest, two nature reserves located on the border of Israel and Gaza, a spokesperson for the Jewish National Fund said.
Fire services said they were working to extinguish the blazes and their investigators had determined that they were caused by four balloons carrying incendiary devices.
In Gaza, the so-called balloon unit, Ahfad an-Nassar, said it had launched balloon-borne incendiary devices toward Israel in solidarity with Lebanon.
“We will not be humiliated,” the group said in a brief statement on Friday.
Earlier on Friday, Hezbollah fired 19 rockets into northern Israel from Lebanon, in the heaviest such barrage since the 2006 Second Lebanon War, sending residents in a number of towns in the Golan Heights and Galilee Panhandle scrambling to shelters.
If today wasn't busy enough already, the Palestinian Ahfad an-Nassar group claims to have launched incendiary balloons from Gaza toward southern Israel, in solidarity with Lebanon. At least 1 fire reported in the Eshkol region. pic.twitter.com/tJ3Gqf9ZYr
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) August 6, 2021
Israel responded with artillery strikes. Witnesses reported artillery fire by Israeli forces on the Lebanese side of Shebaa Farms and outside the town of Kfar Shouba.
For the past three years, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, mostly linked to Hamas and other terror groups, have launched thousands of balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices into southern Israel, causing widespread fires and significant damage to agricultural fields, nature reserves and private property.
There had been no incendiary balloon launches since late last month.
Hamas has used the launching of incendiary devices in order to keep pressure on Israel to move along with reconstruction efforts in the Strip.
Bennett, who replaced Benjamin Netanyahu on June 13, has long urged a tougher response to arson balloons, saying in previous years that they should be treated the same as rockets, and that attacks on southern Israel should receive the same response as attacks targeting central Israel.
In 2018, for instance, Bennett — then the education minister — called for the IDF to try to kill all those launching attack balloons from Gaza, a proposal that was opposed by then-IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.