IAF aircraft fires on arson balloon launchers

Hamas says indirect ceasefire talks with Israel halted, protests to escalate

Gaza official blames impasse on rival Palestinian Authority; one killed as 1,000 Palestinians gather along border for night time riot, clashing with IDF soldiers

Illustrative: A picture taken on August 17, 2018 shows tear gas canisters thrown by Israeli forces at Palestinian protesters during a demonstration along the border of the Gaza Strip, east of Gaza City (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)
Illustrative: A picture taken on August 17, 2018 shows tear gas canisters thrown by Israeli forces at Palestinian protesters during a demonstration along the border of the Gaza Strip, east of Gaza City (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Gaza’s Hamas rulers said on Sunday that their indirect negotiations to reach a long-term ceasefire agreement with Israel have halted and vowed to step up the violent protests along the border.

Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri  blamed the impasse on the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, which has voiced its strong opposition to the Egypt-brokered talks.

Abu Zuhri said that in response, the Gaza-based terrorist group was escalating its protests in new locations along Gaza’s borders with Israel.

In the wake of the announcement, more than a thousand Gazans gathered at the border for a rare night-time protest, burning tires and clashing with IDF troops. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said one person was killed and 11  injured by IDF fire.

The ministry said Imad Ishtawi, 21, was shot in the head.

The IDF said it had spotted a cell about to launch fire balloons into Israel and targeted them with fire from an aircraft. The air force usually fires warning shots at the balloon cells.

His remarks came after a weekend that saw over a dozen fires sparked in southern Israel by incendiary balloons launched over the border from the Gaza Strip. This week has seen an uptick in the cross-border arson attacks, following several weeks of relative quiet along the border, that coincided with the talks aimed at ending the violence that began in March with a series of protests along the border that were dubbed the “March of Return.”

The clashes, which Israel says are being orchestrated by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, have regularly included rioting, attacks on Israeli troops and attempts to infiltrate and sabotage the border fence.

In this photo released by the Hamas Media Office, Ismail Haniyeh, right, the head of the Hamas political bureau, shakes hands with his deputy Saleh el-Arouri upon his arrival in Gaza from Cairo, Egypt, in Gaza City, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2018. (Mohammad Austaz/Hamas Media Office via AP)

On Sunday, nine fires broke out in southern Israel as a result of the arson balloons. On Friday and Saturday, thirteen fires were reported in the areas adjacent to the Gaza Strip. In response to each attack, IDF aircraft fired at cells of Gazans as they launched the devices towards Israel.

The weekend also saw thousands of Gazans demonstrate at the border. On Friday, one Palestinian was reported killed by the Hamas ministry and at least 312 were wounded as some 10,000 Palestinians protested on the Gaza Strip border, with some throwing explosive devices, rocks, and burning tires, as soldiers responded with tear gas and occasional live fire.

One Israeli soldier was lightly injured by shrapnel from a pipe bomb thrown at troops, the army said, adding that it spotted a number of infiltration attempts.

A Palestinian uses a slingshot next to burning tires during clashes at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on August 10, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Hamas had been indirectly negotiating with Israel through Egyptian and UN mediators to pacify the tense border in exchange for easing restrictions on Gaza. But the efforts floundered as differences compounded between Hamas and its West Bank rival Fatah, who opposed the deal.

Hamas and Fatah, the party lead by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, have been deeply divided for more than a decade. Hamas seized control of Gaza from the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in 2007 and several attempts at intra-Palestinian reconciliation since then have failed.

The PA government was pressuring Hamas to reach a reconciliation deal that would return Fatah rule to Gaza, and earlier this year began to scale back electricity payments and other financial support in an effort to force Hamas to cede ground in Gaza.

Abbas demanded that Hamas hand over complete control of Gaza to the PA, and had warned against any ceasefire deal that did not include the Ramallah government.

Hamas has stepped up violence in recent months in an attempt to get concessions from Israel and the PA.

According to AP figures, more than 130 Gazans have been killed by Israeli fire since the start of the clashes. Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seized control of Gaza in 2007 and seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of the Palestinian fatalities were its members.

Israel says its actions — and in particular the use of live ammunition — are necessary to defend the border and stop mass infiltrations from the territory, and accuses Hamas of encouraging the protests and using them as cover to attempt to carry out terror attacks.

During the ongoing demonstrations, protesters have also launched incendiary kites and balloons into Israel, sparking fires that have destroyed forests, burned crops and killed livestock. Over the last six months, more than 8,000 acres of land in southern Israel has been burned by fires sparked by the balloons, causing millions of shekels in damages.

AP contributed to this report.

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