Incendiary balloons from Gaza persist as world leaders gather in Jerusalem

Despite Israeli warning of forceful response if Hamas tries to disrupt World Holocaust Forum, suspected explosive device lands in family’s backyard in Sdot Negev

A bundle of balloons attached to a suspected incendiary device that landed in a home backyard in the Sdot Negev region on January 22, 2020. (Israel Police)
A bundle of balloons attached to a suspected incendiary device that landed in a home backyard in the Sdot Negev region on January 22, 2020. (Israel Police)

Gazan terrorists continued to launch incendiary devices attached to balloons on Wednesday, undeterred by Israel’s threats to respond forcefully to Palestinian attempts to disrupt a major event in Jerusalem attended by many world leaders.

Following many earlier cases this week, a bundle of balloons was found Wednesday morning in the Gaza-adjacent Sdot Negev region, attached to a “suspicious object,” the Israel Police said in a statement.

Officers and a police sapper arrived at the scene to deal with the object, the statement said.

Hebrew-language media reported that the incendiary balloons landed in a family’s backyard.

Later Wednesday, police sappers were dispatched to the town of Nir Moshe in the northern Negev region where an additional cluster of balloons landed with a suspicious device attached to it.

Channel 13 reported Monday that Israeli officials believe Palestinian terror group Hamas is behind the spate of balloon-borne bombs and incendiary devices launched into Israel in recent days, as the group seeks to signal it is unhappy with the slow progress of negotiations for a long-term ceasefire.

Officials have assessed that the group could move to undermine the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, held in Jerusalem on Wednesday and Thursday — either by increasing balloon attacks at Israeli communities or by allowing other, smaller groups to fire rockets into Israel, the report said.

Security preparations at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on January 20, 2020, for a state dinner for world leaders attending the World Holocaust Forum events marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. (Courtesy: Alon Fargo)

The report said Israel warned Hamas that it will respond forcefully to any attempt to disrupt the summit of world leaders, and will not hesitate to strike the terror group in the Gaza Strip in response to such provocations, regardless of the intensified international focus.

The Fifth World Holocaust Forum is scheduled to take place at Yad Vashem in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

In recent days, terrorists have flown numerous bombs and incendiary devices into Israeli territory from the Palestinian enclave with the aid of helium-filled balloons, at times prompting retaliatory strikes from the Israel Defense Forces.

The tactic of launching balloons carrying explosive and arson devices from Gaza into Israel emerged in 2018 as part of a series of protests and riots along the Strip’s border, known collectively as the March of Return. The simple and cheap method of attack by Palestinians has proved effective as Israeli security forces have struggled to counter the tactic, but had largely stopped over half a year ago.

A senior Hamas official said Tuesday that the recent spate of balloons was a signal to Israel to accelerate unofficial “understandings” meant to ease the blockade on the territory ruled by the terror group.

Speaking to journalists, Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said the balloons had been launched by disgruntled individuals, not Hamas. But he said his group was “satisfied” with the launches and is ready to send more “if the occupation doesn’t pick up the message.”

The UN’s Mideast envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, called the renewed balloon launches “concerning and regrettable” in a briefing to the Security Council on Tuesday. “These actions are a risk to the civilian population,” he said.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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