Military aircraft fires at Gaza cell launching arson balloons at Israel

IDF says strike targeted suspects in north of Palestinian enclave; Israeli firefighters extinguish six blazes

Illustrative: Firefighters extinguish a blaze near the southern city of Sderot caused by an incendiary balloon launched from the Gaza Strip on July 31, 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
Illustrative: Firefighters extinguish a blaze near the southern city of Sderot caused by an incendiary balloon launched from the Gaza Strip on July 31, 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

An Israeli aircraft fired at a cell in the northern Gaza Strip launching incendiary balloons toward Israel, the Israeli military said on Saturday, revealing no further details.

The Palestinian news agency Shehab, affiliated with the terror group Hamas which rules Gaza, said the IDF strike occurred near the city of Jabalia.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The Israeli military further reported that a number of clashes took place in different areas along the security fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and that Israeli troops fired tear gas to disperse crowds gathering near the structure. Israel’s Channel 10 reported minor incidents alongside the security fence near Jabalia and Khan Younis.

Over the course of Saturday, six fires were sparked as a result of arson balloons being launched across to communities near the Gaza Strip, Channel 10 reported. Firefighters worked to extinguish the blazes, including one at the entrance to the town of Netivot.

This week has seen an uptick in the launching of incendiary balloons, after several weeks of what was described as a lull. This followed several months of multiple daily attacks that left thousands of acres in southern Israel scorched and sparked fears of children being injured by bombs placed on balloons or kites and launched over the border.

Palestinian protesters gather during a demonstration along the Israeli border fence east of Gaza City on September 21, 2018, as smoke plumes billow from burning tires in the background. (AFP/Said Khatib)

The security fence has also been the scene of near-daily confrontation in recent months,

On Friday, one Palestinian was reported killed and at least 312 were wounded as some 10,000 Palestinians protested on the Gaza Strip border, with some throwing explosive devices, rocks, and burning tires, as soldiers responded with tear gas and occasional live fire.

One Israeli soldier was lightly injured by shrapnel from a pipe bomb thrown at troops, the army said, adding that it spotted a number of infiltration attempts.

Palestinians also sent fire balloons and kites into Israel Friday, causing at least seven blazes along the border. Palestinian sources said an IDF aircraft fired at a group launching incendiary devices. The IDF confirmed several strikes in northern Gaza but gave no further details.

On Monday a balloon with a hand grenade attached to it was discovered in a peanut field near the Gaza border, between the southern kibbutzim of Re’im and Urim, police said Monday.

Illustrative: A balloon attached to an incendiary device that landed on the grounds of an elementary school in the Eshkol Regional Council area adjacent to the Gaza Strip, on July 17, 2018. (Matanya Cohen)

A surge of violence in Gaza began in March with a series of protests along the border that were dubbed the “March of Return.”

The clashes, which Israel says are being orchestrated by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, have included regular rock and Molotov cocktail attacks on troops, as well as shooting and IED attacks aimed at IDF soldiers and attempts to breach the border fence.

Israel says its actions — and in particular the use of live ammunition — are necessary to defend the border and stop mass infiltrations from the territory.

Israel has accused the Hamas terror group of encouraging the protests and using them as cover to attempt to carry out terror attacks, including firing at troops and attempting to breach the border fence.

The return of the fire balloons come as tensions along the Gaza-Israel frontier have ramped back up after a brief lull, with the Hamas terror group leading weekly marches on the fence. The last several days have also seen smaller nightly protests along the border.

According to AP figures, more than 130 Gazans have been killed by Israeli fire since the start of the clashes. Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seized control of Gaza in 2007 and seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of the Palestinian fatalities were its members.

An Israeli soldier was shot to death by a Palestinian sniper in July.

Additionally, Israel and Hamas have engaged in a number of brief exchanges of fire in recent months that have seen terror groups in Gaza launch hundreds of rockets and mortars toward Israeli territory, including one in July that was the largest flare-up in violence since the 2014 war.

Reports have proliferated that Israel is in talks with Hamas, via UN and Egyptian mediation, for a long-term truce in the Strip.

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