IDF accuses Hamas of being behind Gaza ‘fire kite’ attacks

IDF accuses Hamas of being behind Gaza ‘fire kite’ attacks

Army shares names, photos of 4 Palestinian men suspected of leading airborne arson effort, as well as video allegedly showing incendiary balloons being prepared in Hamas post

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

The Israeli army on Sunday accused the Hamas terror group of directing ongoing airborne arson attacks from the Gaza Strip, identifying key figures suspected of being responsible for the project and sharing a video that it said showed incendiary balloons being prepared near a Hamas position.

“Hamas is leading this phenomenon of explosive and incendiary kites, it is behind the launching of them and it will bear the responsibility of this terrorist activity,” the army said.

As evidence, the military released a video (above), filmed from its surveillance cameras, showing masked operatives taking balloons from what the IDF said was a Hamas observation post and walking toward the border, presumably to launch them at southern Israel.

For the past several weeks, dozens of incendiary kites and balloons have been regularly flown into Israel each day. They have sparked hundreds of fires that have burned thousands of acres of agricultural fields, grassland and forests, and caused millions of shekels in damage.

A cluster of balloons with a small explosive device attached to them, which landed and got stuck on a trampoline in a backyard in the Eshkol region of southern Israel on June 20, 2018. (Eshkol Security)

Kites, birthday balloons, and even inflated latex condoms carrying small explosive devices have also been regularly landing inside Israeli communities, requiring authorities to shut down the area until a sapper can be called in to remove it.

The army said the efforts to launch the incendiary and explosive devices were being directed by Hamas regional commanders. Some of the materials used to make the kites and balloons are also coming from Hamas positions, according to the IDF.

The military released the names and photographs of four men that it accused of being leaders in the arson attacks: Bassem Hatem Abd Hazin, Mutasim Fathi Atia Nabahin, Muhana Ibrahim Abd Hamdan and Amro Hussein Muhammad Abu Deif.

The IDF on June 24, 2018, identifies four Palestinians suspected of leading campaign of launching incendiary devices from Gaza into Israel: From left, Muhana Ibrahim Abd Hamdan, Mutasim Fathi Atia Nabahin, Bassem Hatem Abd Hazin, and Amro Hussein Muhammad Abu Deif. (Israel Defense Forces)

By identifying the men, the IDF was sending a tacit threat both to them and to the Hamas organization in general, with the implication that the military could target them for assassination.

The military has struggled to counter the airborne arson devices. A number of high-tech solutions have been tested to spot or intercept the kites and balloons, but none has proven fully effective.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who has been an adamant advocate of shooting-to-kill the launchers of such kites and balloons, said the army’s claims that Hamas was behind the arson attacks was further proof that lethal force was necessary and justified.

“Another piece of evidence that we should shoot at these terrorists launching terror kites and explosive balloons in order to thwart the threat to life that they create,” he wrote on Twitter, linking to the video released by the military.

In a statement, the IDF said the kites and balloons were initially launched into Israel as part of a grassroots form of terror that but was later co-opted by Hamas.

“After the phenomenon began as a form of popular terrorism, in recent weeks it has been noticed that Hamas is leading this process as an organized action in which incendiary and explosive kites and balloons are launched from the border of the Gaza Strip toward Israeli territory,” the IDF said.

Palestinians load kites and balloons with flammable material in order to fly toward Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in al-Bureij, central Gaza Strip, on June 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

“The preparation of these kites is being done in large numbers and in an organized way by terror operations of the Hamas terror group,” the army said.

In recent weeks, the IDF has taken to firing warning shots at the cells launching them, including multiple times on Sunday. In a few cases, the air force has also conducted retaliatory strikes against Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip later in the night.

“The IDF is working with increasing force against these terror cells — by shooting near them — against the terrorist infrastructure that belongs to them, and against Hamas targets deep in the Gaza Strip,” the army said. “We will not allow this terror to be a threat to the citizens of Israel and its land.”

The IDF has twice conducted predawn airstrikes against Hamas targets in response to extensive airborne arson attacks. In both cases, the terror group and its ally the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad have retaliated to the air raids by launching rockets or mortar shells at Israel.

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