IDF strikes Hamas sites in Gaza after arson balloons spark fires in south

Military says it hit Hamas camp and rocket-launching position; Strip residents report blasts in the northern part of coastal enclave

Illustrative: Smoke rises following Israeli missile strikes on Gaza City on May 13, 2021. (AP/Khalil Hamra)
Illustrative: Smoke rises following Israeli missile strikes on Gaza City on May 13, 2021. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

Israeli warplanes struck a number of sites in the Gaza Strip Saturday night in response to a wave of arson balloon attacks launched at Israel from the coastal enclave a day earlier, the military said.

The IDF said it struck a camp and a rocket-launching position in the Strip belonging to Hamas, adding that it would “continue to respond with strikes to terror attempts from Gaza.”

Residents of the Palestinian enclave and of Israeli communities near the border reported hearing blasts in the northern Gaza Strip.

Additional Palestinian media reports said Hamas members fired machine guns toward Israeli aircraft over the Strip.

The airstrikes came after at least four brush fires were ignited in southern Israel by balloons carrying incendiary devices that were launched from the Hamas-run Strip on Friday.

Three of the fires ignited in the Kissufim forest, and another one in the Be’eri forest, two nature reserves located on the border of Israel and Gaza, a spokesperson for the Jewish National Fund said.

In Gaza, the so-called balloon unit, Ahfad an-Nassar, said it had launched balloon-borne incendiary devices toward Israel in solidarity with Lebanon.

“We will not be humiliated,” the group said in a brief statement on Friday.

Earlier on Friday, Hezbollah fired 19 rockets into northern Israel from Lebanon, in the heaviest such barrage since the 2006 Second Lebanon War, sending residents in a number of towns in the Golan Heights and Galilee Panhandle scrambling to shelters.

Israel responded with artillery strikes. Witnesses reported artillery fire by Israeli forces on the Lebanese side of Shebaa Farms and outside the town of Kfar Shouba.

For the past three years, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, mostly linked to Hamas and other terror groups, have launched thousands of balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices into southern Israel, causing widespread fires and significant damage to agricultural fields, nature reserves and private property.

Recently Israel began responding to such attacks with strikes in Gaza.

There had been no incendiary balloon launches since late last month.

Hamas has used the launching of incendiary devices in order to keep pressure on Israel to move along with reconstruction efforts in the Strip.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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