3 Gazans said injured as IDF conducts strikes against fire balloon launchers

Palestinian media reports three attacks by Israeli drones in at least two locations in the coastal enclave

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Palestinians prepare a kite with flammable materials that they will fly into southern Israel from Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on June 22, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinians prepare a kite with flammable materials that they will fly into southern Israel from Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on June 22, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israeli drones carried out three airstrikes on targets in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, according to Palestinian media, including one that reportedly injured three people, in response to multiple airborne arson attacks from the enclave directed against southern Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that it had launched two airstrikes, but would not immediately comment on the reports of one.

Around 7 p.m., the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry reported that three people had been injured in an IDF strike east of Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood. The extent of the men’s injuries was not immediately known.

According to the IDF, the men had been preparing to launch airborne incendiary and explosive devices into southern Israel.

The military said the target of the strike was a cart being used by the cell.

It was not immediately clear if the men had been deliberately injured. In the past, the IDF had generally avoided wounding Palestinians in its airstrikes against kite- and balloon launchers, instead firing warning shots or targeting empty vehicles.

The IDF refused to comment on the injuries, saying only that it was aware of the reports.

It was the third reported Israeli strike against a target in the Gaza Strip of the day.

The first, which was conducted in the early afternoon, destroyed a motorbike that was being used by a group of Palestinians who had launched incendiary balloons into southern Israel.

“Using an aircraft, the IDF attacked a vehicle that was being used by a cell that had launched incendiary balloons in the southern Gaza Strip,” the army said in a statement.

The motorbike that was hit in the first airstrike did not appear to have been in used at the time. The target of the second airstrike, which took place a short time later, was an observation post near the security fence, according to Palestinian media reports.

According to the Hamas-affiliated Shehab news outlet, those two drone strikes occurred outside the Bureij refugee camp.

Throughout the day, approximately 30 fires — of varying sizes — were reported in the area around the Gaza Strip, apparently sparked by incendiary kites and balloons.

Israeli firefighters extinguish a blaze in a field in southern Israel, which was caused by kites flown by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, on June 20, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The IDF conducted similar airstrikes last week, firing at groups of Gazans launching incendiary kites and balloons into southern Israel.

The Israeli military has carried out multiple warning strikes in recent weeks at groups of Gazans preparing to launch incendiary devices toward Israel. The army has said repeatedly that it will act to prevent the launch of the airborne incendiary devices and explosives.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched hundreds of kites and helium balloons bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, sparking near-daily fires that have burned thousands of acres of land in southern Israel.

Israeli leaders on Wednesday evening warned Hamas, which rules Gaza, and other terror groups in the Strip, that the military was prepared to take more intense offensive action as well.

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)

“The intensity will increase as necessary,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a graduation ceremony for new IDF officers. “We are prepared for every scenario, and it’s best that our enemies understand this right now.

“The steel fist of the IDF will strike hard at anyone who attempts to harm us,” he added.

Israeli leaders were split on how to respond to those responsible for the airborne arson attacks, with some calling for the IDF to shoot the kite flyers and balloon launchers on sight, while others argued that it would be a step too far.

In recent days, the military has attempted to force Hamas to rein in the aerial arsonists by carrying out airstrikes on the organization’s positions in response to kite and balloon attacks.

Around midnight on Tuesday, Israeli jets bombed three Hamas positions in the Strip in response to numerous airborne arson attacks by Gazans earlier in the day.

A rocket fired from Gaza that landed in one of the communities of the Eshkol region on June 20, 2018. (Eshkol Security)

Minutes later, Palestinians in the Strip launched the first of many rocket and mortar barrages at southern Israel, triggering sirens throughout the area and sending thousands into bomb shelters. Over the course of the next four hours, some 45 rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israel, with at least six exploding inside communities, causing damage but no injuries, including one that landed just outside a kindergarten.

In response, the Israeli military carried out two more rounds of airstrikes in Gaza, hitting a total of approximately 25 targets at a number of Hamas compounds.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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