Hamas and other Gaza terror groups said to order halt to arson balloon launches
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Hamas and other Gaza terror groups said to order halt to arson balloon launches

Nighttime protests involving clashes and explosions also reportedly to cease, after progress seen on easing of Israel’s restrictions on movement in and out of Strip

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

This picture from March 22, 2019, shows balloons carrying a make-shift drone-shaped object flying over the border with Israel east of Gaza City, after it was launched by Palestinians during clashes along the security fence. (Said Khatib/AFP)
This picture from March 22, 2019, shows balloons carrying a make-shift drone-shaped object flying over the border with Israel east of Gaza City, after it was launched by Palestinians during clashes along the security fence. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups in the Gaza Strip have instructed their members to stop launching flaming and explosive-laden balloons into Israel and to halt nighttime protests in the border region between the Jewish state and the coastal enclave, according to a Palestinian report Wednesday.

The report in the Al-Quds daily, citing “well-placed” sources, said smaller Palestinian factions in the enclave also told their member to halt launching balloons into Israel, amid intensive efforts to reach a ceasefire with Israel.

Palestinians in Gaza have launched thousands of balloons and kites carrying incendiary devices or explosives at Israel since April 2018, burning thousands of dunams of farmlands in the southern part of the Jewish state.

Gazans recently restarted the launches, after a several-month hiatus in the fall and winter, and began holding night protests as tensions on the Gaza border have ticked up.

According to the report, the Gazan groups told their members to stop employing “rough tools” along the border, using a phrase that refers to incendiary and explosive-laden balloons and nighttime protests.

During the nighttime protests, rioters clash with Israeli troops, set off small explosions, light tires on fire and point lasers at security forces. The loud sounds created by the explosions at the nighttime protests have caused significant distress for many Israelis living adjacent to Gaza.

Palestinian protesters take part in a night demonstration near the fence along the border with Israel, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 19, 2019. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said in a phone call that he was not aware of any balloons landing in Israel on Wednesday. In addition, since early this week, Palestinians in Gaza have not carried out nighttime protests.

The Palestinian groups and factions told their cadres to halt the balloons and protests after “the process of [advancing] understandings to lessen the siege on Gaza started to move along well,” the sources told Al-Quds.

Egypt, the United Nations and Qatar have recently worked to broker ceasefire understandings between Israel and Hamas, which, if finalized, would likely see an end to violence emanating from the Strip in exchange for the Jewish state easing some of its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave.

Israeli officials have long held that the Jewish state’s limitations on movement aim to prevent Hamas and other terror groups from transferring weapons into Gaza.

Palestinian protesters run for cover from tear gas canisters fired by Israeli forces during clashes amid a mass-demonstration marking the first anniversary of the “March of Return” protests, near the border with Israel east of Gaza City on March 30, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

There appeared to be a breakthrough in the ceasefire efforts over the weekend, when Palestinians in Gaza maintained relative calm along the border during large protests on Saturday.

Israel, in turn, reopened its two crossings with Gaza on Sunday, having closed them last week after a rocket attack struck a home in central Israel and injured seven people, and significantly expanded the permitted fishing area on Monday around the coastal enclave.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said on Tuesday that Egyptian interlocutors informed the terror group of a timetable of when Israel intends to undertake additional measures to lighten its restrictions on movement, the Hamas-linked al-Risala daily reported.

The al-Risala report did not say whether Haniyeh specifically stated when Israel will make these moves.

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