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IDF airstrike on fire balloon launchers said to kill one Hamas fighter

Palestinians say 2 others injured in Israeli drone attack in Khan Younis area; army says men were members of Hamas terror group; 2 mortar shells fired at soldiers

Illustrative: Gazans load balloons with flammable material to be flown toward Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in al-Bureij, central Gaza Strip on June 14, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
Illustrative: Gazans load balloons with flammable material to be flown toward Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in al-Bureij, central Gaza Strip on June 14, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

The IDF carried out an airstrike on a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons into Israel from the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday, with the drone strike reportedly killing one person and wounding two others.

In a statement, the IDF said the Palestinians were members of the Hamas terrorist organization that rules the Strip. A short time later, the army said Gazans fired two mortar shells at Israeli security forces patrolling the Gaza security fence in  the area, causing no casualties.

“Our aircraft carried out an attack on a terror cell launching incendiary balloons near to a Hamas post in southern Gaza,” the army said, adding that it would continue to step up its campaign against the balloon and kite launchers.

The Hamas-run Health ministry said 22-year-old Abdel Karim Radwan was killed and two others were injured by the Israeli drone strike in the Khan Younis area. Hamas confirmed he was a member of its armed wing.

Over the last few months, Palestinians in Gaza have flown thousands of kites and balloons attached to incendiary devices that have set off hundreds of fires in farm lands and nature reserves along the border with Gaza, destroying tens of thousands of acres.

There were 11 fires caused in Israel on Thursday by the arson devices.

Domestic pressure on the military to halt the burning flying objects has intensified, leading to Israel carrying out airstrikes and increasing the possibility that the violence could escalate into a full-blown war.

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

Thursday’s strike came a day after Hamas reportedly agreed to gradually decrease the incendiary kites and balloons being launched into Israel “to prevent dragging Gaza into a war.” The Palestinian Al-Quds Daily quoted sources who said the cross-border arson attacks could stop completely by next week.

On Monday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced that Israel would further limit the flow of goods into the Gaza Strip in response to the continued airborne kite and balloon attacks emanating from the coastal enclave.

Between Tuesday and Sunday, no fuel will enter Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing, but the entry of food and medicine approved by Israel will continue, Liberman’s office said. Additionally, Gaza fishermen will only be allowed to venture three kilometers (1.8 miles) into the Mediterranean Sea, down from the current six kilometers (3.7 miles), the defense minister’s office added.

The restrictions were toughened due to “continued terror attempts” by Hamas, Liberman’s office said, accusing the terror group of enabling, encouraging and participating in flying the incendiary devices and bombs into Israel.

An Israeli soldier attempts to extinguish a fire in a forest field near the Kibbutz of Nahal Oz, along the border with the Gaza Strip, on July 17 after it was caused by inflammable material attached to a balloon flown by Palestinians from across the border. (AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA)

The restrictions join those imposed by Israel last week, when it halted exports of Gazan produce and stopped most goods from entering the Strip. The military said the closure would continue as long as Palestinians persist in launching incendiary kites and balloons into Israel.

Kerem Shalom is the only cargo crossing between Gaza and Israel. The Strip has been subject to a strict blockade for the past 11 years that Israel says is necessary to prevent terrorist groups from bringing weapons into the Strip. Egypt also tightly controls the Rafah border crossing.

Until the recent restrictions, hundreds of trucks a day brought goods from Israeli ports through the Kerem Shalom crossing and into the Gaza Strip.

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