IDF again shoots near Palestinians flying ‘fire balloons’ from Gaza into Israel
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IDF again shoots near Palestinians flying ‘fire balloons’ from Gaza into Israel

Airborne arson device sparks blaze in banana field; booby-trapped balloon from the Strip bears the message: 'When life here is like death, we'll keep living near the fence'

A cluster of balloons launched from the Gaza Strip that landed inside the southern Israel Eshkol region on July 12, 2018. (Eshkol Security)
A cluster of balloons launched from the Gaza Strip that landed inside the southern Israel Eshkol region on July 12, 2018. (Eshkol Security)

An Israeli drone fired two missiles toward a group of Palestinians flying incendiary balloons into southern Israel from the northern Gaza Strip on Thursday, according to Palestinian media.

This was the second such airstrike in less than 24 hours.

The Israeli military confirmed that one of its aircraft fired at a cell that had launched balloons toward Israel from northern Gaza.

No injuries were reported in the airstrike, which the official Palestinian Wafa news outlet said occurred near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun.

Multiple Palestinian news outlets, including Wafa, reported that Israel conducted two strikes on Thursday, one near Beit Hanoun and a second east of the city of Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip.

An IDF spokesperson denied the Palestinian reports, saying he was “only familiar with one airstrike.”

The southern Israeli Eshkol region reported that a number of incendiary and booby-trapped balloons had been flown into the area throughout Thursday morning.

A banana field that was damaged by a fire sparked by an incendiary balloon from the Gaza Strip, in the southern Israel Eshkol region on July 12, 2018. (Eshkol Security)

In one case, a banana field sustained considerable damage in a kibbutz in the region after an incendiary balloon landed inside it, an Eshkol spokespereson said.

“In addition, throughout the morning, a number of suspicious balloons were spotted and neutralized inside the region,” she said.

A balloon launched from the Gaza Strip that landed inside the southern Israel Eshkol region, reading, ‘When life here is like death, we’ll keep living near the fence,’ on July 12, 2018. (Eshkol Security)

At least one large cluster of dozens of balloons made its way into Israel. One balloon, carrying what appeared to be a small incendiary device, had a message taped to it, written in Hebrew and Arabic, reading: “When life here is like death, we’ll keep living near the fence.”

It was not immediately clear if these balloons were launched by the same group that was targeted by the IDF strike.

Throughout the day on Wednesday, incendiary kites and balloons sparked 19 fires, of varying sizes, in southern Israel, according to local government officials. Fifteen of them occurred in the Eshkol region, which abuts the southern Gaza Strip. The other four took place in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, which lies to the northeast of the coastal enclave.

In response, the Israeli military conducted an airstrike against a group of Palestinians that it said was launching incendiary balloons toward Israel from the southern Gaza Strip, east of the city of Rafah. Then, too, no injuries were reported.

The airstrikes come amid a period of increased tension between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terrorist group. On Monday, Israel announced it was shutting down the Kerem Shalom border crossing — the Strip’s main crossing for material goods — in response to the never-ending stream of incendiary and explosive kites and balloons that have been flown into southern Israel, sparking fires that have burned thousands of acres of land and caused millions of shekels in damages.

A balloon loaded with incendiary material is flown towards Israel by Palestinians east of Gaza City on June 29, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Over the past three months, weekly clashes have also taken place on the Gaza border, with Israel accusing Hamas of using the demonstrations as cover to carry out attacks and attempt to breach the security fence.

The army said humanitarian aid, notably food and medicine, would still be allowed into Gaza, but would require special permission from the military liaison, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, to the Palestinians.

The military said the closure would continue so long as Palestinians persist in launching incendiary kites and balloons into Israel.

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