An Israeli aircraft on Saturday for the first time attacked a group of three Gazans preparing a store of balloons that Palestinians have been using to send incendiary devices over the border during Gaza protests, the army said.
No injuries were reported in the strike near the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. The IDF said the aircraft fired “a warning shot.”
“We view the use of incendiary balloons and kites very seriously and will continue to act to prevent their use,” the army said.
The report came as Palestinians continued to send flaming kites into Israel, including one that was apparently carrying an explosive device, Israel Radio reported.
The device was safely detonated by sappers and police warned the public not to approach the kites or balloons.
In Friday’s border violence, Gazans used helium-filled balloons to carry explosives, detonated by remote control, in attempts to attack troops, the IDF said. Officials said no soldiers were hurt in those attempted attacks, but that the tactic constituted a grave new development, Israel Radio reported Saturday, and hence the IDF’s warning shots on Saturday.
Four Gazans were killed in clashes at the border Friday.
Also Saturday the IDF apprehended a Palestinian who crossed the border fence into Israel. He was carrying a sling and taken for interrogation, military officials said.
Kites continued to set fires in Israeli fields and nature reserves Saturday.
One of the new fires broke out near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, while another near the city of Sderot.
Police temporarily closed Route 34 to traffic between Sderot and Kibbutz Yad Mordechai due to the fire. Firefighters were battling both blazes.
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Earlier, five fires broke out in the area of Kibbutz Be’eri and Kissufim near the Gaza security fence as a result of the flaming kites.
All the fires were extinguished by local firefighting teams and security coordinators. No casualties were reported.
Israel has been battling to combat the kites and balloons and lately has been trying to use drones to bring them down.
A group of conscripted soldiers and hobbyists pressed into service have managed to bring down over 500 fire kites and balloons over the past 10 weeks, a senior officer said Thursday.
The Israeli military anticipated that many more so-called “terror kites” and “terror balloons” would be flown into Israel from Gaza at the weekend as part of large-scale “March of Return” protests organized and supported by the Hamas terror group, which rules the coastal enclave.
Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched hundreds of helium balloons and kites bearing flammable materials into Israeli territory, starting over 200 fires, according to authorities.
The flying objects are fitted with a long string to which a Molotov cocktail, pouch of burning fuel or, in a few rare cases, an improvised explosive device is attached.
Nearly 18,000 dunams (4,500 acres) of agricultural fields, forests and grasslands have been burned, causing over NIS 5 million ($1.4 million) worth of damage, officials said.
In two months of mass protests at the Gaza border, over 120 Palestinians were believed killed and thousands wounded by Israeli military fire. The majority of the fatalities were members of terror groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have acknowledged. Israel said its troops were defending its border and accused Hamas of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of the protests.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that in order to cover the cost of damage to affected fields, the government would consider withholding tax revenue funds from the Palestinian Authority.
The decision raised eyebrows among Israeli analysts, who pointed out that the PA does not control the Gaza Strip. Indeed, the authority’s primary rival, the Hamas terror group, has ruled the enclave since ousting the PA in a violent coup in 2007. Making the PA financially responsible for the kites could incentivize Hamas to continue encouraging the tactic, analysts have warned.