IDF helicopters pound Hamas positions in response to explosive balloon

Army says two posts hit after incendiary lands in southern community; Eshkol Regional Council later reports 2 more explosions from airborne explosives

Illustrative: A balloon carrying a suspected explosive device from the Gaza Strip touches down in southern Israel on February 20, 2019. (Eshkol Security)
Illustrative: A balloon carrying a suspected explosive device from the Gaza Strip touches down in southern Israel on February 20, 2019. (Eshkol Security)

IDF attack helicopters hit two positions of the Hamas terror group in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday in response to an explosive device that was carried into Israel by balloons launched from the Palestinian enclave, the army said.

It was Israel’s fourth retaliatory airstrike against the terror group in the past three days.

It came after a bunch of balloons carrying explosives came down between two buildings in the Eshkol Regional Council, the council said in a statement. The bomb exploded but caused neither injuries nor damage.

On Sunday night an Israeli military drone bombed a Hamas position in the northern Gaza Strip in response to a violent riot along the border nearby, according to Palestinian media.

Members of a so-called “confusion unit” held a violent demonstration along the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip, east of Beit Hanoun, burning tires and setting off many explosive devices near the border.

“An Israel Defense Forces aircraft attacked a Hamas post in response to the throwing of explosive devices across the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip,” the army said at the time.

It appeared to be the military’s first time conducting such an attack in response to riots along the security fence itself, rather than to cross-border violence directed toward Israeli civilian communities.

Hours later, the regional council said two more balloons flown from the Strip exploded in the air. It also said Palestinians were taking part in violent protests on the Gaza side of the border and warned residents that further explosions would likely be heard in the area.

“The IDF is on the scene and in control,” the council said in a statement.

After halting their activities for several months, the Palestinian “confusion units” recently returned to the Gaza border, holding riots at various locations along the security fence each night in an effort to maintain pressure on Israel by tormenting civilians living nearby and troops serving on the border.

On Saturday evening, the Israeli army said its aircraft fired at targets in the southern Gaza Strip in response to a cluster of balloons attached to an incendiary device that was launched from the Strip toward Israel.

The explosive balloons did not cause any injuries or damage.

The border riots are part of the March of Return protests, which have taken place weekly along the border since last March and have periodically escalated into major flare-ups between the Israeli military and Gaza-based terror groups.

Israel has accused Hamas, the terror organization that rules the Strip, of orchestrating the clashes and using them as cover to breach the border fence and carry out attacks.

Recent weeks have seen a dramatic increase in the level of violence along the Gaza border, with near nightly riots and a return of airborne arson attacks, which had waned in light of a de facto ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas at the end of last year.

The latest riots came after the release last week of a report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council on Israel’s handling of the clashes that alleged there is evidence Israeli soldiers committed crimes again humanity.

The inquiry investigated possible violations from the start of the protests on March 30, 2018, through December 31.

Israeli leaders angrily rejected the findings of the UN probe, calling it “hostile, deceitful and biased.”

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