IDF aircraft fires at Gazans launching arson balloons at Israel
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IDF aircraft fires at Gazans launching arson balloons at Israel

Strike comes after at least nine blazes sparked Thursday by airborne devices

A Palestinian prepares a balloon that will be attached to flammable materials and then flown toward Israel near the Israeli-Gazan border, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip June 17, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
A Palestinian prepares a balloon that will be attached to flammable materials and then flown toward Israel near the Israeli-Gazan border, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip June 17, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

An Israeli aircraft opened fire at a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons at Israel from the northern Gaza Strip, the army said on Thursday night.

There were no immediate reports of injuries from the airstrike.

The strike came amid a marked uptick in suspected attacks from Gazans launching incendiary balloons into Israel.

“Moments ago, a terrorist squad launched arson balloons from Gaza into Israel. In response, We fired towards the squad,” the army said in a tweet.

On Thursday, firefighters in southern Israel worked to extinguish at least nine blazes sparked by incendiary balloons flown over the border from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli Fire and Rescue Services said.

A spokesman said the fires broke out near several Israeli communities adjacent to the Gaza border, including Kibbutz Be’eri.

On Wednesday, the fire service said there were four blazes started by suspected incendiary balloons near Kibbutz Be’eri over the Yom Kippur holiday.

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

The return of the fire balloons come as tensions along the Gaza-Israel frontier have ramped back up after a brief lull, with the Hamas terror group leading weekly marches on the fence. The last several days have also seen smaller nightly protests along the border.

Some 200 Gazans were protesting near the fence in southern Gaza on Thursday night, according to the Hamas-linked Shehab news outlet.

On Wednesday evening a Palestinian teenager was shot dead by Israeli fire in clashes near the border in southern Gaza, the Hamas-run health ministry in the enclave said.

On Tuesday evening, two Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in clashes along the border, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The two were killed during protests near the Erez checkpoint between Gaza and Israel, the scene of regular confrontation between stone-throwing youths and Israeli soldiers in recent months.

On Monday, two Gazans were killed in an Israeli strike near the border fence east of Khan Younis in the southern Strip, Palestinian reports said. The Israel Defense Forces said that its aircraft had targeted Palestinians who approached the fence and placed what the military said was a suspicious object there.

Also on Monday a balloon with a hand grenade attached to it was discovered in a peanut field near the Gaza border, between the southern kibbutzim of Re’im and Urim, police said Monday.

Tear gas is fired on Palestinian demonstrators during a protest calling for the lift of the Israeli blockade on Gaza, on a beach in Beit Lahia near the maritime border with Israel, on September 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Said KHATIB)

A surge of violence in Gaza 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 included regular rock and Molotov cocktail attacks on troops, as well as shooting and IED attacks aimed at IDF soldiers and attempts to breach the border fence.

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.

Israel has accused the Hamas terror group of encouraging the protests and using them as cover to attempt to carry out terror attacks, including firing at troops and attempting to breach the border fence.

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