Gazan arson balloon sparks fire in southern Israel

Attack comes a day after Israel and Hamas renewed unofficial truce said to include halt of incendiary devices launched across border

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)
Illustrative: 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)

An arson balloon launched from the Gaza Strip ignited a fire Saturday near Kibbutz Nir Am in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, marking a breach in an unofficial truce renewed on Friday between Israel and Hamas.

Israel’s firefighting teams arrived on the scene and extinguished the blaze.

The latest incident came after incendiary balloons from Gaza sparked 14 fires Friday in southern Israel, hours after Israel granted a number of economic concessions to the Strip in exchange for an end to arson attacks and other violence along the border.

This week approximately 100 fires were started by balloon-borne arson devices launched from Gaza, according to figures from the local fire departments.

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

On Friday, as part of a renewed truce agreement, an unnamed Israeli official confirmed that Israel had resumed fuel deliveries that were cut off earlier in the week and extended the fishing zone up to 15 nautical miles from 10.

The official said that in return, Hamas “promised to halt the attacks on Israel,” a reference to incendiary balloons launched from the enclave.

Palestinians prepare arson balloons near the city of Jabalia in the Gaza Strip, June 25, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

Israel does not officially recognize ceasefire deals or negotiations with Hamas, an Islamist terror group that rules Gaza and seeks to destroy Israel.

There have been no injuries reported in the blazes, most of which have occurred in agricultural fields and grasslands, but the fires have caused significant damage to crops and wildlife.

Earlier Saturday, two Palestinians were apprehended close to the security fence in northern Gaza with four knives and a set of bolt cutters, according to the Israeli army.

Overnight Friday-Saturday, two Palestinians were nabbed with a pair of knives in the south of Gaza.

And on Friday, Gaza health officials said Israeli security forces shot and injured 50 Palestinians at the border during riots and mass demonstrations involving some 7,000 protesters, which also saw a military jeep set ablaze by an explosive device thrown by protesters.

Palestinians clash with Israeli forces on the Israel-Gaza border near Gaza City, June 28, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

There were no reported Israeli injuries.

The Hamas-run health ministry said 19 Palestinians were injured by live fire, and said Israeli troops also injured eight paramedic volunteers and one journalist. It was unclear how the remainder of the reported 50 individuals injured sustained their wounds.

This week’s halting of fuel shipments marked a shift 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 for the arson attacks.

Earlier this month saw a fresh surge in serious violence between the two sides, including two nights of rocket attacks and retaliatory Israeli air force strikes.

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