IDF said opposed to directly targeting Gazans launching incendiary devices
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IDF said opposed to directly targeting Gazans launching incendiary devices

Army officials quoted as saying harsher response would spark war, could lead to high casualty rate

Israeli girls watch a fire caused from kites flown by Palestinians, near the border with the Gaza Strip, June 8, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Israeli girls watch a fire caused from kites flown by Palestinians, near the border with the Gaza Strip, June 8, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

Israeli military officials are pushing back against calls to target Palestinians launching incendiary kites and balloons from the Gaza Strip, according to Hebrew reports on Sunday night.

A military official reportedly told residents of southern Israel that if the IDF were to respond more harshly to the airborne arson devices being sent from the Gaza Strip, it would lead to war.

The IDF official was addressing residents of the towns adjacent to the coastal enclave who were losing patience with daily arson attacks, which have led to the loss of thousands of acres of farmland, forests and parks, and caused millions of shekels in damage.

“The alternative to kite terror is war,” the official said, according to Hadashot TV. “If we respond too strongly it could lead to an escalation of hostilities. You would be in your bomb shelters and you don’t want that, especially when the construction of the barrier against the tunnels has not yet been completed.”

He was justifying the IDF’s current policy of firing warning shots at Palestinians launching the flaming kites and balloons.

The Haaretz newspaper reported that senior IDF officials have told Israel’s political leaders that targeting those dispatching the balloons is the wrong approach. Instead, they said the army should strike the Hamas terrorist group, which would prompt the enclave’s leadership to rein in the arson kite and balloon squads.

Targeting the kite and balloon cells would lead to a high number of casualties, the army estimated. Many of those launching the airborne incendiary devices are minors.

The reports came hours after the Israeli Air Force attacked targets connected to a group of Palestinians who had launched incendiary balloons into southern Israel earlier Sunday in the third round of airstrikes of the day, according to the army.

The airstrikes, which caused no casualties, came as multiple balloons with small explosive devices touched down in southern Israel, and others bearing pouches of burning material set fire to large swaths of land in the area.

A masked Palestinian man launches a balloon loaded with flammable materials toward Israel east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on June 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Although the army has employed drones and other technology and brought down hundreds of kites and balloons, hundreds more make it over the border daily, leading to increasing calls from politicians and residents for the IDF to take a much harsher approach to end the attacks.

The army has signaled in recent days that it may be looking into moving beyond warning shots, amid mounting political pressure to prevent the daily attacks from the air.

Shooting at the kite launchers would be highly controversial, running the risk of hitting other people in groups and drawing fresh charges that the army is using excessive force in putting down rampant border violence. However, politicians and others have urged the army to step up its response, as the number of kite and balloon incidents have increased.

A Palestinian holds a bag containing with flammable materials that will be attached to balloons and flown toward Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on June 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

In addition to firing warning shots at those preparing kites and balloons, in the predawn hours of Sunday, the air force also bombed a car that the army said belonged to one of the leaders of the Gazan kite and balloon attacks.

The army did not name the person targeted or say if they were hit in the airstrike.

The Palestinian Shehab news agency, linked to Gaza’s Hamas rulers, reported that the airstrike had hit an empty vehicle outside a mosque in Shejaiya early Sunday morning.

There were no reports of injuries.

The strike early Sunday was likely meant as a warning to the unnamed figure that Israel knows where they are and may begin carrying out assassinations from the air, including against figures not actively preparing balloons or kites for launching.

On Saturday, at least 15 fires were started by incendiary kites and balloons in the south and on Sunday, some 17 fires were reported.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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