Israeli aircraft strikes incendiary balloon squad in Gaza — IDF

Palestinians say 2 lightly injured in incident, which comes hours before planned mass protests along border

Incendiary balloons being launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip in May 2018. (Screen capture: Quds news)
Incendiary balloons being launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip in May 2018. (Screen capture: Quds news)

An Israel Defense Forces aircraft opened fire Friday at a group of Palestinians who were trying to send incendiary balloons over the border in the northern Gaza Strip, the military said. Two people were lightly injured, according to reports in Gaza.

The incident came hours before thousands of Palestinians were expected to converge on the border in a mass protest, after weeks of relative calm.

Both Israel and the terror group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, have been denying reports of a UN- and Egypt-brokered truce agreement that would end a months-long flareup of hostilities — the most severe since the 2014 war.

The 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 Gaza’s Hamas rulers orchestrated, have included rock and Molotov cocktail attacks on troops, as well as attempts to breach the border fence and attack Israeli soldiers.

Since the protests began in March, at least 125 protesters have been killed by Israeli fire, according to the Gaza health ministry. Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of those killed were its members. During that time, a Gaza sniper killed an Israeli soldier.

During the demonstrations, protesters have also launched incendiary kites and balloons into Israel, sparking fires that have destroyed forests, burned crops and killed livestock. Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.

Last Friday, some 5,000 Palestinians protested along the border, and some 180 were wounded, according to Palestinian reports.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced on Thursday that the Erez pedestrian crossing into the Strip be kept closed for a week as punishment over rioting and vandalism perpetrated at the site by a group of Palestinians earlier this week.

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