IDF aircraft fires warning shots at Gaza ‘incendiary balloon cell’
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IDF aircraft fires warning shots at Gaza ‘incendiary balloon cell’

For third time in 48 hours, Israel opens fire on Palestinians to block the launching of the flaming devices

Palestinian protesters prepare kites loaded with flammable material to be flown towards Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in al-Bureij, central Gaza Strip on June 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)
Palestinian protesters prepare kites loaded with flammable material to be flown towards Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in al-Bureij, central Gaza Strip on June 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

The Israeli military on Friday said an aircraft fired warning shots at a group of Palestinians involved in the launching of incendiary balloons toward Israel from the Gaza Strip, as well as at vehicles in Gaza.

“A short while ago, an aircraft fired warning shots at an incendiary balloon cell and at vehicles in the south of the Gaza Strip,” the military said in a statement.

“The IDF views the use of incendiary balloons and kites with great severity and will operate to prevent their use,” the military said.

It was the third time in 48 hours that Israel opened fire at Gazans as they attempted to start fires in Israeli territory with airborne arson devices.

There were no reports of injuries in any of the Israeli strikes.

The method of firing warning shots appeared to be a new tactic that the military was looking to adopt in order to counter the threat posed by these kites and balloons, which have burned thousands of acres of farmland, forests and nature reserves in the regions around the Gaza Strip, according to Israeli officials.

Hamas on Thursday threatened to send 5,000 fire kites and balloons deep into Israeli territory on Friday during the weekly “March of Return” mass protests.

The Palestinian terror group, the de facto ruler in the Strip which openly calls for the destruction of Israel, said at a press conference that the incendiary devices will be launched from various locations in Gaza during the protest, on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched hundreds of kites and helium balloons bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, into Israeli territory, sparking near-daily fires.

Earlier on Friday, a booby-trapped balloon was flown into Israeli territory, landing on a highway in the Sha’ar Hanegev region. Police sappers were called to the scene and destroyed the balloon and the explosive device attached to it in a controlled explosion, police said.

Palestinian protesters prepare kites loaded with flammable material to be flown towards Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in al-Bureij, central Gaza Strip on June 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

The military has sought to counter these kites and balloons with teams of soldiers operating drones. Israeli officials have deemed the drone program a success, but it has not provided a perfect solution.

The Tax Authority estimated that the damage so far amounts to upwards of NIS 5 million ($1.4 million).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed withholding tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority to pay for the damage, though critics are skeptical of the plan as the kites and balloons are being launched from Gaza, where the PA has limited control.

In two months of mass protests at the Gaza border, more than 130 Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded by Israeli military fire. Dozens of the fatalities were members of terror groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have acknowledged.

File: Israeli firefighters extinguish a fire in a field in southern Israel, caused by kites flown by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip on June 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel said its troops were defending the border and accused Hamas of trying to carry out terror attacks under the cover of the protests.

Protesters have hurled grenades, improvised explosives and rocks at soldiers, burned tires and flown hundreds of incendiary kites and balloons into Israeli territory, sparking dozens of fires.

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