IDF strikes 2 Hamas posts in Gaza as firefighters tackle balloon blazes

Military says airstrikes a response to ‘fire terror’, with at least 7 fires reported in Israel since morning; rocket launched from Strip falls inside Palestinian territory

Palestinians walk through the wreckage of a building that was damaged by Israeli air strikes in Gaza City, on July 15, 2018. (Wissam Nassar/ Flash90)
Palestinians walk through the wreckage of a building that was damaged by Israeli air strikes in Gaza City, on July 15, 2018. (Wissam Nassar/ Flash90)

Israeli aircraft struck a pair of Hamas observation posts in the Gaza Strip on Monday, with the military saying incendiary balloons were launched from nearby earlier in the day, sparking fires in Israel.

“The strike was carried out in response to the fire terror being led by the Hamas terror organization against Israel’s citizens and sovereignty,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

It was not immediately clear if any Palestinians were injured in the airstrike.

Some time after the Israeli attack, the army said a rocket was launched towards Israel from the north of the Strip, but apparently fell inside the Palestinian enclave.

Meanwhile Israeli firefighting crews battled a number of blazes in the border region sparked by flaming airborne devices flown in from Gaza.

Incendiary balloons are flown toward Israel during clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops east of Gaza City, along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, on July 13, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

In the Eshkol Regional Council, firefighters were working to extinguish three fires believed to have been caused by incendiary balloons, which local residents found at the scene, the regional council said.

It said seven fires had broken out in the Eshkol region on Monday, with all but one brought under control by firefighters.

“The assessment is that most [of the fires] were likely the result of incendiary balloons, except for one [caused by] burning waste,” the regional council said.

Elsewhere, firefighting planes and other industrial equipment were brought in to battle a massive fire near Kibbutz Carmia, north of the Strip. It was not immediately clear what caused the fire.

The visit came after a weekend of violence during which Hamas and other terror groups fired some 200 rockets at Israel. In Sderot, three people were moderately injured when a rocket hit a home on Saturday. Israel responded to the rocket salvos with dozens of airstrikes on Hamas targets, with the terror group’s health ministry saying two were killed and over 20 injured. It was the biggest daytime Israeli attack on Gaza since the 2014 summer war.

On Saturday night, a ceasefire of sorts was brokered by Egypt and other international bodies, though Israel was not directly involved in the talks, and the violence abated to some degree. However, Hamas has said it does not see the kites and balloons as illegitimate or a breach of the agreement. As such, the Gaza-ruling terror group maintains that Israeli strikes in response to these airborne arson attacks amount to violations of the ceasefire.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said “the Israeli occupation has exaggerated the damage caused by the kites and balloons in order to justify its aggression on Gaza.”

“The Israeli occupation would be playing with fire if its warplanes targeted kite flyers,” he said.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday during a visit to the border that Israel would not agree to any form of ceasefire as long as Palestinians continue to send the incendiary devices across the border to start fires in Israeli territory.

The kites and balloons, some of which are booby-trapped with explosives, have wreaked havoc in the Israeli communities surrounding the Gaza Strip since the phenomenon began in April, sparking fires that have scorched over 7,000 acres of land and caused millions of shekels in damage.

The government and military have come under intense domestic pressure to step up the response to the balloons and kites, which has mostly consisted of firing warning shots at cells launching the devices.

Netanyahu said he was confident that Israel would obliterate the threat.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 3rd from right, meets with heads of local authorities from the Gaza Strip border communities during a visit to Sderot on July 16, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

“Just as we are now completing stopping the tunnels, and just as we are successfully acting to stop the mass assaults on the fences, so we have instructed the IDF to defeat and to stop the fire kite and balloon terror,” the prime minister said.

On Sunday, the Israel Defense Forces conducted three drone strikes against Palestinians launching incendiary kites and balloons at southern Israel, injuring three of them, Palestinian media reported.

Judah Ari Gross and AFP contributed to this report.

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