IDF reinforces troops on Gaza border as violence rises; arson balloons spark fires

Military sends another battalion to frontier region, defense minister tours border; firefighters bring three blazes under control

Israeli soldiers seen near an IDF tank stationed near the Gaza border on April 7, 2023. (Flash90/File)
Israeli soldiers seen near an IDF tank stationed near the Gaza border on April 7, 2023. (Flash90/File)

The military said it was reinforcing troops along the Gaza Strip border Sunday, as tensions rise along the frontier and as incendiary balloons sparked fresh fires in Israel.

“In line with a situational assessment, it was decided to add a battalion to the Gaza Division,” the Israel Defense Forces said.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant toured the border region Sunday along with IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, and the two met top commanders to review latest developments.

Firefighters said Sunday afternoon they had brought three blazes under control in the Gaza periphery, while stating that they were caused by incendiary balloons from the Strip.

Palestinians in Gaza have increasingly returned in recent weeks to the practice of launching incendiary devices tied to helium balloons into Israel. Such fire-starting contraptions have been responsible for numerous fires that have destroyed large tracts of land.

On Saturday, the military carried out an airstrike on a Hamas position in the Gaza Strip following the latest riots along the border which included gunfire toward Israeli army forces.

The Israel Defense Forces said a drone struck the post, located near the scene of the day’s riots.

Masked Gazans prepare to launch fire-sparking balloons toward Israel in the Gaza Strip, September 23, 2023 (Palestinian social media)

Dozens of Palestinians rioted along the border with Israel earlier that day, in the latest violent rally near the barrier in what has become a daily occurrence.

Rioters burned tires and hurled makeshift bombs, and gunmen fired toward Israeli forces along the border. Footage showed terror operatives flying balloons carrying incendiary devices toward the border, though there were no reports of balloons sparking fires within Israel.

Also Sunday, three Palestinian terror groups announced plans to escalate their fight against Israel and to increase cooperation between them.

Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine made the statement after a meeting of top officials in Beirut.

The groups “stressed the importance of escalating the comprehensive resistance, especially the armed resistance, in the face of the Israeli occupation, and agreed to strengthen all forms of coordination between the three organizations on all issues.”

Terror group leaders meet in Beirut on September 23, 2023. Left to right: Jamil Mezher, Deputy Secretary-General of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; Ziad Nakhaleh, Secretary-General of Palestinian Islamic Jihadl; and Saleh Al-Arouri, deputy head of Hamas’s politburo (Social media)

They also expressed their pride in ongoing West Bank attacks on civilians and soldiers, calling them “bold, heroic operations that confuse the occupation soldiers and settlers and exhaust them.”

Palestinians have been holding near-daily riots on the Gaza border in recent weeks. During the riots, Palestinians have been detonating explosive devices, setting tires on fire, trying to breach the security barrier and opening fire at troops in a handful of cases.

On Thursday, a Palestinian gunman who opened fire at Israeli forces during rioting on the border was shot and seriously wounded by a Border Police sniper.

Israel has kept shut its sole pedestrian crossing with the Gaza Strip since September 15 in response to rioting on the border.

The closure of Erez Crossing affects 17,000 Gazans who have permits to enter Israel for work. The Strip’s economy is harmed by the laborers being barred entry to Israel.

The rioting in recent weeks has left at least seven Palestinians dead, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip. Six of them were killed while mishandling a makeshift bomb that was supposed to be planted on the border, while the seventh was shot by Israeli soldiers.

No IDF soldiers have been wounded in the recent riots so far.

A Palestinian demonstrator returns a tear gas canister during clashes with Israeli soldiers east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip near the Israel-Gaza border fence on September 23, 2023. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The riots, according to military assessments, come as Hamas seeks to resolve a dispute it has with Qatar over monthly funding the Gulf nation provides to the Palestinian enclave.

Hamas has reportedly asked Qatar to increase the monthly sum to adjust for inflation, but Doha so far has not agreed to the demand. The terror group apparently launched the riots on the Gaza border to pressure Israel, which would in turn pressure Qatar to solve the issue.

Gaza has been blockaded by both Israel and Egypt for over 15 years in an attempt to contain the enclave’s Hamas rulers. Israel says the tight restrictions on goods and people are necessary due to the terror group’s efforts to massively arm itself for attacks against the Jewish state.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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