The IDF said it carried out a second airstrike in the Gaza Strip on Saturday afternoon, targeting a cell launching incendiary balloons into Israel from the southern Palestinian enclave. The strike came hours after the military targeted a cell launching balloons in the northern Gaza Strip.
The airstrikes came amid reports that the Strip’s Hamas rulers were considering a long-term ceasefire deal with Israel.
Earlier in the day, firefighters battled two blazes in the Gaza border area started by flaming balloons. On Friday there were 26 fires started by incendiary devices flown from Gaza.
Since March 30, southern Israel has experienced hundreds of fires as a result of incendiary kites and balloons flown over the border from Gaza. Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.
Recently, balloons have been found farther and farther from the Gaza Strip, including as far away as the southern city of Beersheba.
Israel has struggled to counter the arson assault and has in some cases fired at Palestinians preparing to launch incendiaries, killing or injuring those involved.
The Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip said earlier Saturday that a 15-year-old Palestinian died of his wounds hours after being shot in the stomach by Israeli soldiers during clashes at the border on Friday.
Several Palestinians breached the border fence during the large protests.
The army said some 8,000 people took part in the protests at five sites along the border Friday. The military said its forces responded with riot disposal means and live fire in accordance with appropriate rules of engagement.
In one incident, several Palestinians crossed the border fence, entered Israeli territory at the Kerem Shalom crossing, and threw firebombs and stones, before fleeing back into Gaza. “In response, an IDF tank shelled a post belonging to the Hamas terror group.”
Friday’s protests were held in memory of Mohammad Tareq, a Palestinian terrorist who murdered an Israeli man in a terror attack in the West Bank last week.
Organizers urged Gazans to attend Friday’s protests “in order to convey a message that Palestinians will not surrender to the dictates of Israeli terrorism until the siege is lifted,” the Haaretz daily reported.
For over three months, there have been near-weekly, violent protests along the Israel-Gaza border organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, leading to the most serious escalation between the two sides since the 2014 war.
The deadly clashes have seen Israeli security forces facing gunfire, grenades, Molotov cocktails, and efforts — sometimes successful — to damage or penetrate the border fence. Last month, an Israeli soldier was killed by a sniper.
According to the Gaza health ministry, 157 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the “March of Return” protests on March 30. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of those killed were its members.