Hamas said to agree to gradually decrease flaming kite attacks on Israel

Report says terror group intends to wind down airborne incendiary assaults in coming days to prevent dragging Gaza into war

Adam Rasgon is a former Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

Illustrative: Incendiary balloons are flown toward Israel during clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops east of Gaza City, along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, on July 13, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Illustrative: Incendiary balloons are flown toward Israel during clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops east of Gaza City, along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, on July 13, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

The Hamas terror group intends to gradually decrease the launching of incendiary kites from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel, the Palestinian Al-Quds daily reported Wednesday, citing “well-informed Palestinian sources.”

The kites, some of which Israel says are also booby-trapped with explosives, have wreaked havoc in the Israeli communities surrounding the Gaza Strip since the phenomenon began in April, sparking fires that have scorched thousands of acres and caused millions of shekels in damage.

The report did not explicitly mention incendiary balloons, which have also caused significant damage in southern Israel.

The sources said that the Hamas leadership had decided to take action against the flaming kites “to prevent dragging Gaza into a war.” They also said multiple parties, including Egypt, had told Hamas that the kites must be stopped “to prevent giving Israel an excuse to launch a major military offensive.”

Over the past couple of years, Hamas leaders have said that they do not want a war with Israel, but also declared that their group’s military wing is prepared to fight.

Late Saturday night, a fragile ceasefire between Israel and armed factions in Gaza went into effect, following one of the most severe exchanges of fire between the two sides since the 2014 war.

The sources also said that the kites “could entirely stop next week.”

A group of Palestinians who have been launching incendiary kites and balloons toward Israel denied the report that Hamas intends to clamp down on their activities.

“We declare to the whole world that the news reports are totally false,” the group said in a statement, according to the Hamas-linked al-Resalah news site.

The group also said they had launched flaming balloons toward Israel Wednesday morning. “Our unit went out to the field this morning to send its balloons toward the occupied lands to prove to everyone that we do not take orders from anyone,” it said.

A fire was reported on the Israeli side of the border, near Kibbutz Or Haner.

The government and military have come under intense domestic pressure to step up the response to the kites, which has mostly consisted of firing warning shots at cells launching the objects.

Fires in fields adjacent to the Gazan border on June 3, 2018. (Screen capture: Ynet news)

On Monday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s office said Israel will further limit the flow of goods into the Gaza Strip in response to the continued airborne kite and balloon attacks emanating from the coastal enclave.

Between Tuesday and Sunday, no fuel will enter Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing, but the entry of food and medicine approved by Israel will continue, Liberman’s office said. Additionally, Gaza fishermen will only be allowed to venture three kilometers (1.8 miles) into the Mediterranean Sea, down from the current six kilometers (3.7 miles), the defense minister’s office added.

The restrictions were toughened due to “continued terror attempts” by Hamas, Liberman’s office said, accusing the terror group of enabling, encouraging and participating in flying incendiary devices and bombs into Israel with balloons and kites.

Iyad Sarhan, a Defense Ministry official, said on Tuesday that the new restrictions had been implemented.

The  restrictions join those imposed by Israel last week, when it halted exports of Gazan produce and stopped most goods from entering the Strip. The military said the closure would continue as long as Palestinians persist in launching incendiary kites and balloons into Israel.

The European Union criticized the initial restrictions, saying it “expects Israel to reverse these decisions,” which risked “further aggravating the already dire economic situation in Gaza.”

Kerem Shalom is the only cargo crossing between Gaza and Israel. The Strip has been subject to a strict blockade for the past 11 years that Israel says is necessary to prevent terrorist groups from bringing weapons into the Strip. Egypt also tightly controls the Rafah border crossing.

Until the recent restrictions, hundreds of trucks a day brought goods from Israeli ports through the Kerem Shalom crossing and into the Gaza Strip.

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