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Israeli aircraft fires toward incendiary balloon-launching cell in Gaza

Palestinian media report motorcycle destroyed in strike, which comes as incendiary devices launched from Strip spark 3 blazes in south

This picture taken on October 19, 2018, at Kibbutz Nahal Oz in southern Israel shows an Israeli military drone approaching balloons carrying an apparent incendiary device launched by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. (Jack Guez/AFP)
This picture taken on October 19, 2018, at Kibbutz Nahal Oz in southern Israel shows an Israeli military drone approaching balloons carrying an apparent incendiary device launched by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. (Jack Guez/AFP)

A military aircraft fired toward a group of Palestinians on Saturday flying incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip into Israel, the Israeli army said.

There were no reports of injuries. Palestine media outlets said the strike destroyed a motorcycle in southern Gaza.

The airstrike came as flaming balloons launched from the coastal enclave started two fires in southern Israel. Firefighters were working to extinguish the blazes, which broke out at the Be’eri and Shokeda forests.

Another fire was later sparked in the Kissufim Forest by a burning balloon flown from Gaza, the Ynet news site reported.

A spokesman for the Fire and Rescue Services said balloons launched from Gaza started a total of four fires Saturday in the south.

Military forces also fired toward a group in Gaza on Friday launching incendiary balloons at Israeli territory as thousands of Palestinians took part in clashes along the border.

Though the IDF said a number of explosives and grenades were set off during the clashes and that Palestinians broke through the fence in three locations before immediately returning to the coastal enclave, with soldiers opening fire at the suspects in one case, Israeli defense officials described the demonstrations as some of the quietest since the “March of Return” began on March 30.

“Unlike past weeks, most of the rioters remained at a distance and did not try to reach the fence. Hamas acted for restraint on the ground,” the military said, referring to the terror group that rules Gaza.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said 130 Palestinians were hurt in the clashes, including 77 by live fire.

The IDF said some 10,000 people took part in the protests. It sent text messages on Friday to residents of the coastal enclave, warning them not to approach the fence, Palestinians said.

Israeli soldiers taking position during clashes with Palestinians across the Gaza border on October 19, 2018, in Kibbutz Nahal Oz (Jack Guez/AFP)

The violence broke out despite one of the main organizers of the protests calling on participants on Thursday night to behave nonviolently in the demonstration, following a flareup between Israel and the Hamas that threatened to spark an all-out war.

However, Israeli officials believe Hamas has changed its policies regarding the clashes and is working towards curbing violence at the rallies which have become a near-daily occurrence, Hadashot TV news reported Friday.

Jerusalem believes the terror group is moderating the demonstrations in order to allow Egyptian mediators a chance to strike a deal between Hamas and Israel for a long-term truce in Gaza, the report said.

Meanwhile Haaretz reported that Israeli defense officials wish to respond to the more limited rallies in Gaza on Friday by renewing fuel supplies to the Strip. The officials have said in closed deliberations that Hamas’s efforts to limit the violence should be taken advantage of to create positive momentum towards a calm.

Last Friday, Israel halted the transfer of fuel to Gaza in response to heavy rioting and attacks at the border fence.

From L to R: National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman and IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi hold a situational assessment near the Gaza border on October 17, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

According to the newspaper, security officials hope to renew supplies to Gaza as early as Sunday, to send a positive message to Hamas. It was not clear whether Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman supports such a move. Liberman said last week that Israel would not allow any more fuel into Gaza until violence against Israel was stopped “entirely.”

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in a series of protests and riots which have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks and bombings as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.

Some 156 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures. Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border earlier this year

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