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IDF strikes Hamas targets in southern Gaza after continued arson balloon attacks

Strikes come hours after Qatari envoy arrives in Strip bringing $30 million in cash, seeking to ease Israel-Hamas tensions

An Israeli soldier extinguishes a fire in a field close to the southern kibbutz of Nir Am, near the border with the Gaza Strip on August 25, 2020, after it was set off by incendiary balloons launched from the Palestinian enclave. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
An Israeli soldier extinguishes a fire in a field close to the southern kibbutz of Nir Am, near the border with the Gaza Strip on August 25, 2020, after it was set off by incendiary balloons launched from the Palestinian enclave. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

Israeli warplanes and tanks attacked Hamas targets in southern Gaza early Wednesday after terrorists in Gaza sent dozens of incendiary balloons toward Israel, sparking several fires.

The Israel Defense Forces said it hit Hamas military posts and underground infrastructure in response to the balloon attacks.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Israel’s fire and rescue service said Tuesday evening that 29 fires had been sparked in southern Israel throughout the day by balloon-borne incendiary devices lofted from Gaza.

It said most of the fires were small and posed no danger to people or property.

Most of those were centered in the Sha’ar Hanegev, Eshkol, and Merhavim regional councils. In all of those cases, fire service investigators determined the cause to be arson balloons launched from Gaza.

Later in the evening, an explosive device attached to a balloon exploded inside a basketball court in the town of Netivot, causing property damage.

The 29 fires caused by airborne arson attacks in southern Israel on Tuesday followed 36 on Monday, 28 on Sunday and 35 the day before, according to the fire department.

The strikes came hours after a Qatari envoy arrived in the Gaza Strip bringing $30 million in cash, seeking to ease the Israel-Hamas tensions that have led to daily arson balloon and rocket attacks on Israel and IDF reprisal strikes.

Mohammed el-Emadi arrived with $30 million to help the territory of two million people, half of whom live under the poverty line, sources close to the envoy told AFP.

He was expected to meet Hamas officials during the night.

His arrival comes a day after the London-based Arabic-language daily Asharq al-Awsat reported that the head of the IDF Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, visited Qatar this week in a bid to secure a ceasefire agreement with the Hamas terror group.

Hamas is under immense international pressure from Qatar, Egypt, and UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov to halt its attacks, alongside pressure from the Gazan public, which is getting only three to four hours of electricity per day after becoming used to more than three times that amount. The electricity shortages are a result of Israel stopping fuel imports in response to the violence, which led a Gaza power plant to shut down.

The uptick in violence along the border is thought to be linked to demands for increased cash transfers from Qatar to the Strip, where around 60 percent of the population is unemployed.

In recent days the IDF has responded to dozens of daily arson balloons and intermittent rocket fire with near-nightly reprisal strikes on Hamas targets in the Strip, including underground infrastructure, weapons production facilities, cement factories used to make parts for tunnels, and observation posts along the border.

On Monday, a senior Hamas official told the pro-Hamas channel Palestine Today that the surge in violence would continue until the terror group’s demands on lifting the blockade were met.

“It is our right to break this siege,” Ismail Radwan said.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on Gaza since Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority in 2007. The blockade is meant to prevent Hamas from importing weapons with which to attacking Israel, as well as material used to construct fortifications and underground tunnels. Israel also frequently tightens restrictions on the Gaza Strip to put pressure on Hamas or in response to violence emanating from it.

An Israeli soldier battles a blaze close to the southern kibbutz of Nir Am that was apparently caused by a balloon-borne incendiary device launched from the Gaza Strip, August 23, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Israel has shuttered its only commercial crossing into the Gaza Strip, allowing only food, medication and humanitarian aid to pass. Israel also closed the fishing zone around the coastal enclave.

Qatari delegation sources said the Israeli side had told El-Emadi that it is prepared to allow the power station to refuel and ease restrictions in exchange for a return to calm and an end to the incendiary balloons.

On Monday, a coalition of Gaza-based terror groups threatened to attack Israeli forces if the ban on fishing — a major industry in the Strip — continued.

“We will not allow the enemy to behave horribly towards our people’s fishermen, and encroach upon their livelihoods and rob them. We will defend them and work to protect them,” said the so-called Joint Operations Room.

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