Israel carries out fresh airstrike after Gazans launch fire balloons

Army says it struck Hamas position in response to arson attacks; local government notes fewer fires in area, following air force’s overnight raids on terror group’s facilities

A masked Palestinian prepares a balloon that will be attached to flammable materials to be launched into Israel near the Israeli Gaza border, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 17, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
A masked Palestinian prepares a balloon that will be attached to flammable materials to be launched into Israel near the Israeli Gaza border, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 17, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

An Israeli aircraft bombed a Hamas position in the southern Gaza Strip on Monday night, after a group of Palestinians launched incendiary balloons at southern Israel, the army said.

The attack came after the Israeli Air Force conducted a series of airstrikes inside the coastal enclave, aimed at deterring Palestinian terror groups from continuing to launch incendiary and explosive kites and balloons at Israel.

Though it did not stop them completely, the military’s aerial bombardments appeared to have some effect on the number of airborne devices launched from the Gaza Strip.

Though fires were reported in the Eshkol and Sha’ar Hanegev regions — the two areas most affected by the arson attacks — it appeared to be at a lower level than in recent days.

“Today, there was a decrease in the amount of fires in the region,” said a spokesperson for the Eshkol region.

A firefighter extinguishing a blaze on the Israeli border with Gaza, June 11, 2018. (Sam Sokol)

Six fires were reported in the area on Monday, mostly from blazes on Sunday that were never properly extinguished, the Eshkol official said.

“All of the fires were put out quickly,” she said.

In Sha’ar Hanegev, one fire was reported near Kibbutz Or Haner, and firefighters had not brought it under control, as of Monday night, but a spokesperson for the region said there was “no threat to the nearby communities.”

Earlier on Monday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned that Israel would not allow Palestinian terror groups to continue launching incendiary devices into Israeli territory, the likes of which have caused hundreds of brush fires and burned thousands of acres of land in recent months.

“If anyone thinks it will be possible to continue with the daily kites and fires, they are wrong,” Liberman said during a tour of Israel Aerospace Industries, the country’s primary aerospace manufacturer.

Israeli aircraft struck a number of targets in the Gaza Strip early Monday morning in response to numerous arson attacks by Palestinians the day before, the military said. Minutes later, Palestinians fired three rockets at southern Israel from the coastal enclave.

The army said two of the rockets fell inside Israel, while the third appeared to fall short of the border. There were no reports of injuries on either side of the border.

An explosion is seen in Gaza City after an airstrike by Israel on June 18, 2018. (AFP / MAHMUD HAMS)

The rockets were the first to be fired at Israel in over two weeks, breaking a tacit ceasefire that has largely held since a day-long flareup in late May.

Before the rocket attack, Israeli fighter jets carried out strikes on three military compounds and one weapons manufacturing plant in northern Gaza belonging to the Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The army said it hit a total of nine targets spread out between the three Hamas facilities, in response to flammable and explosive-laden kites and balloons launched from Gaza that have wreaked havoc in Israel over the past several weeks.

“The attack was carried out in response to the launching of incendiary and explosive kites and balloons at Israeli territory. This is terrorist activity that endangers the lives of southern residents and has damaged large amounts of land,” the military said.

The army warned that it had the “intelligence knowledge and operational capability” necessary to conduct further strikes in Gaza if the balloon and kite attacks did not stop.

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)

The airstrikes on Hamas facilities appeared to be a new tactic by the military to deter Palestinians from flying the airborne arson devices into Israel, after its previous attempts to do so by firing warning shots at kite-flyers failed to yield results.

The Palestinian rocket fire appeared to come in response to the airstrikes.

The projectiles shot at Israel triggered sirens in the Hof Ashkelon region and the city of Ashkelon’s industrial area, sending thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters. The alarms were triggered in two waves, first at 4:40 a.m. and then again shortly after 5 a.m.

The Iron Dome missile defense system did not appear to have been activated, indicating the two incoming rockets that cleared the border struck open fields, where there was no risk to life and thus no need to intercept them.

Israel’s airstrikes in the Strip and the subsequent Palestinian rocket fire followed a day of airborne arson attacks by Gazans, who launched dozens of balloons laden with incendiary devices and explosives at southern Israel, sparking at least 20 fires, some of them large.

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