IDF aircraft fires at cell launching incendiary balloons from Gaza
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IDF aircraft fires at cell launching incendiary balloons from Gaza

No injuries reported in strike, which comes amid marked uptick in attacks from the Strip and rioting on the border

Illustrative: A masked Palestinian man launches a balloon loaded with flammable materials toward Israel from the southern Gaza town of Rafah on June 17, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)
Illustrative: A masked Palestinian man launches a balloon loaded with flammable materials toward Israel from the southern Gaza town of Rafah on June 17, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

An IDF aircraft opened fire at a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons at Israel from the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday morning, the army said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries from the airstrike. The incident came amid a marked uptick in suspected incendiary balloon attacks from Gaza.

The use of fire balloons had been halted for several weeks, after months of multiple daily attacks left over seven thousand acres in southern Israel scorched and sparked fears of children being injured by bombs placed on balloons or kites and launched over the border.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Monday that a “hard blow” to the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group would return calm to southern Israel, as an internal Palestinian conflict and failed negotiations between Israel and Hamas threatened to bring about another war in the coastal enclave.

At the opening of the Knesset on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an apparent reference to the tensions on the Gaza border that he is “doing everything to prevent unnecessary wars,” before adding that Israel would not hesitate to fight when required.

Also on Monday, an Israeli military aircraft bombed a Hamas position in the southern Gaza Strip after two Palestinian men set off an explosive device near the security fence earlier in the day, the army said.

Palestinian protesters climb a fence separating them from Israeli security forces during demonstration on the beach near the maritime border with Israel, in the northern Gaza Strip, on October 15, 2018. (Said KHATIB / AFP)

In the evening several thousand Palestinians protested on Gaza’s border with Israel, throwing rocks and firebombs and burning tires, the army said.

IDF troops used tear gas and live fire to beat back the protesters in the northern Strip. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said dozens of Palestinians had been hurt by smoke inhalation and shrapnel, and at least 30 suffered injuries from live fire.

The army also said a flotilla of boats that attempted to breach the blockade on Gaza’s maritime border were driven back by the Israeli navy.

Monday’s airstrike and continued arson attacks came after Israel’s high-level security cabinet met for four hours on Sunday afternoon to discuss swirling tensions in Gaza.

The rising border tensions peaked on Friday amid heavy rioting at the fence separating Israel from Gaza. Seven Palestinians were killed, including three who breached the border fence and ran toward IDF soldiers during the chaotic unrest.

On Saturday, Liberman halted all fuel deliveries into the Gaza Strip in response to the violence, which has included near-daily rioting on the border and the launching of incendiary devices into Israel.

Since March, Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, has orchestrated near-weekly protests along the fence, which have seen repeated violent clashes between Palestinian rioters and IDF troops. Some 155 Palestinians have been killed, according to AP figures; Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members.

Both Israel and Egypt enforce restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza. Israel says the blockade is necessary to keep Hamas and other terror groups in the Strip from arming or building military infrastructure.

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