IDF targets 2 cars, observation post used by Gazans launching fire balloons
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IDF targets 2 cars, observation post used by Gazans launching fire balloons

Military conducts two separate airstrikes at Palestinians sending airborne arson devices at southern Israel; no injuries reported in either strike

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

Palestinian protesters hold balloons before loading them with flammable material to be flown towards Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in the central Gaza Strip on June 14, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
Palestinian protesters hold balloons before loading them with flammable material to be flown towards Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in the central Gaza Strip on June 14, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Israeli drones destroyed two cars and an observation post that were being used by a group of Palestinians to launch incendiary balloons into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, according to Palestinian reports.

The Israeli military confirmed that its aircraft conducted three strikes in response to repeated arson attacks from the Palestinian coastal enclave.

No Palestinian injuries were reported.

The Israel Defense Forces carried out the first round of strikes around 3 p.m. on Tuesday, hitting one vehicle and the observation post.

“An IDF aircraft attacked a car in the northern Gaza Strip that was being used by a group of incendiary balloon launchers, as well as an observation post from which they were launching balloons,” the army said in a statement.

According to the Hamas-affiliated Shehab news outlet, the airstrikes were conducted by an Israeli drone east of Gaza City near the security fence.

At around 8 p.m., the air force conducted an additional airstrike, also east of Gaza City.

A number of small fires were reported in southern Israel throughout the day on Tuesday, apparently sparked by incendiary kites and balloons from the Gaza Strip.

As of 9 p.m., all the fires had been extinguished, according to officials from the Sha’ar Hanegev and Eshkol regions.

Local security officers work to put out a fire, sparked by incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip, in the Hevel Shalom area of southern Israel on June 26, 2018. (Eshkol Security)

On Monday, a total of 11 fires broke out in southern Israel that were caused by these airborne arson devices, according to local government officials.

Nine of the blazes took place in the Eshkol region, which has been the area hardest hit by these fire kites and balloons. The other two fires occurred in the nearby Sha’ar Hanegev region.

The 11 fires were put out quickly before they could spread, spokespeople for the regions said.

A number of balloons with small explosive devices attached to them were also found throughout the day on Tuesday.

The IDF conducted similar airstrikes on Sunday, firing at groups of Gazans launching incendiary kites and balloons into southern Israel.

In one case, three people were injured as an IDF drone fired a missile at a cart being used by the group, according to local Palestinian media.

The Israeli military has carried out multiple warning strikes in recent weeks at groups of Gazans preparing to launch incendiary devices toward Israel. The army has said repeatedly that it will act to prevent the launch of the airborne incendiary devices and explosives.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched countless kites, balloons and inflated latex condoms bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, into Israeli territory, sparking near-daily fires that have burned thousands of acres of farmland, parks and forests.

Israeli leaders on Wednesday evening warned Hamas, which rules Gaza, and other terror groups in the Strip, that the military was prepared to take more intense offensive action as well.

Illustrative: A masked Palestinian man launches a balloon loaded with flammable materials toward Israel from the southern Gaza town of Rafah on June 17, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

“The intensity will increase as necessary,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a graduation ceremony for new IDF officers last week. “We are prepared for every scenario, and it’s best that our enemies understand this right now.

“The steel fist of the IDF will strike hard at anyone who attempts to harm us,” he added.

Israeli leaders have been split on how to respond to those responsible for the airborne arson attacks, with some calling for the IDF to shoot the kite flyers and balloon launchers on sight, while others argued that it would be a step too far.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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