IDF fires shots near Gazans launching ‘fire kites’
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IDF fires shots near Gazans launching ‘fire kites’

Army says it targeted the structure from which the Palestinians were flying incendiary devices into southern Israel

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

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

The Israeli military fired warning shots near a group of Palestinians preparing to fly incendiary kites toward Israel from the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday, the army said.

There were no reports of injuries.

The Israel Defense Forces said the target of the airstrike was “the structure from which the cell was trying to launch the incendiary kites in the southern Gaza Strip.”

The Hamas-affiliated Shehab news agency reported that the Israeli airstrike was conducted by a drone, east of the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

Multiple blazes were reported in Israeli communities close to the Gaza border on Thursday, though firefighters said all had been brought under control.

Palestinians prepare to fill a latex condom with helium, to which they will attach flammable materials to be flown toward Israel near the Gaza border east of the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 17, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The IDF conducted two similar airstrikes the day before, 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 the Hamas terrorist group, which rules Gaza, and other terror groups in the Strip, that the military was prepared to take more intense offensive action as well.

“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 this was 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 on a number of Hamas compounds.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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