IDF strikes Gaza ‘fire balloon’ launchers, three reported hurt
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IDF strikes Gaza ‘fire balloon’ launchers, three reported hurt

Military says it targeted ‘terrorist squad’ carrying out arson attacks from the northern Strip; several balloons reportedly land in Israel

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

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)
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)

An Israel aircraft shot at a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons into southern Israel from Gaza on Tuesday, the military said.

The Israel Defense Force confirmed that one of its aircraft opened fire at a “terrorist squad” in the northern Gaza Strip.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said three people were injured in the strike.

The Hamas-linked Shehab news outlets said two people suffered light injuries and one person was moderately hurt with a head wound.

It said a drone had targeted the group east of Gaza City.

The strike, the third in as many days, came amid a sharp decrease in cross-border violence at the volatile border.

Earlier in the day, Israel partially reopened the Kerem Shalom cargo terminal into Gaza, which had been shuttered as a punitive measure amid a spate of arson attacks from Gazans launching balloons and kites laden with flammable material or explosive devices.

The arson attacks have largely abated since Friday night, when Hamas reportedly agreed to a ceasefire, but the practice has continued. On Tuesday, some five balloons were launched into Israel, with three starting small fires, Israel’s Hadashot news reported.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Sunday that Israel would fully reopen the Kerem Shalom Crossing on Tuesday if all violence from Gaza ceased.

Instead, the defense minister partially reopened the crossing on Tuesday, allowing through gasoline and diesel fuel for the first time in over a week, along with the food and medical supplies that have entered Gaza daily since the crossing was closed.

“The minister’s decision came from the fact that Hamas has not completely stopped its terrorist activities, but has tried to keep them at a low level of incendiary balloon launches and clashes on the border, with known Hamas members responsible for it,” his office said in a statement Tuesday morning.

On Monday, an Israeli aircraft shot at a group of Gazans flying incendiary balloons into southern Israel from the northern Strip, east of the city of Jabaliya, according to the military and Palestinian reports. There were no injuries immediately reported.

On Sunday evening, an Israeli aircraft also fired at a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons into southern Israel from the northern Gaza Strip, the army said. The Hamas-run Gazan health ministry said two people were injured in the strike. It listed the injuries as light to moderate.

IDF tanks also struck a pair of observation posts on Saturday, in response to an attempt to breach the border and an incendiary balloon launch.

Since March 30, southern Israel has experienced many fires as a result of incendiary kites and balloons. Over 7,000 acres of land has been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.

The reported ceasefire with Hamas was reached after the IDF pounded dozens of Hamas targets on Friday night in response to a sniper attack on the border earlier in the evening, in which a soldier was killed.

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