Army uses new radar system to try to intercept fire kites

Israeli children counter flaming kites with peace balloons

Hamas threats to send 5,000 flaming devices from Gaza toward Israel fail to materialize, with residents focused on Eid al-Fitr and World Cup games

Children and residents of Kibbutz Nir Am release balloons carrying candy towards the Gaza Strip on June 15, 2018. (Screen capture: Hadashot TV News)
Children and residents of Kibbutz Nir Am release balloons carrying candy towards the Gaza Strip on June 15, 2018. (Screen capture: Hadashot TV News)

As the Hamas terror group threatened to launch 5,000 flaming kites and balloons at Israel on Friday, Israeli children at the Gaza border countered with an airborne message of peace.

At Kibbutz Nir Am, which has suffered a number of fires sparked by burning kites flown from Gaza, children and residents launched balloons carrying candy towards the Palestinian enclave, Hadashot TV news reported.

Additionally, kibbutz members on Saturday will replant groves at Nir Am burned by the kites in a message of “they burn and we plant,” the network said.

Nir Am is one of a number of border communities to have had its fields burned as a result of flaming kites and balloons sent over the border as part of the Hamas-led “March of Return” protests.

Hamas threats to send 5,000 flaming kites and balloons into Israel on Friday largely failed to materialize, with many Palestinians busy with the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday that caps the fasting month of Ramadan. Eid is traditionally a time of family visits and festive meals, with children getting new clothes, haircuts and gifts.

Attention may also have focused on the World Cup in Russia, with two matches featuring Arab teams taking place Friday afternoon as Egypt, without the iconic Mohammad Salah, took on Uruguay and Iran played Morocco.

Nevertheless, incendiary balloons and kites set 11 fires inside Israel, which were extinguished by the fire services and local volunteers.

In light of Hamas’s call for the mass launching of incendiary devices toward Israel, Israeli military aircraft fired warning shots at a group of Palestinians in Gaza involved in the launching of burning balloons.

“A short while ago, an aircraft fired warning shots at an incendiary balloon cell and at vehicles in the south of the Gaza Strip,” the military said in a statement.

“The IDF views the use of incendiary balloons and kites with great severity and will operate to prevent their use,” the military said.

It was the third time in 48 hours that Israel opened fire at Gazans as they attempted to start fires in Israeli territory with airborne arson devices.

There were no reports of injuries in any of the Israeli strikes.

Also Friday Hadashot news reported that Israel for the first time used a new radar to find kites and balloons, which were then intercepted by drones. The radar, initially designed to detect gliders, was calibrated to pick up the kites.

Palestinians load kites and balloons with flammable material in order to fly toward Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border in al-Bureij, central Gaza Strip, on June 14, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

The method of firing warning shots appeared to be a new tactic that the military was looking to adopt in order to counter the threat posed by these kites and balloons, which have burned thousands of acres of farmland, forests and nature reserves in the regions around the Gaza Strip, according to Israeli officials.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched hundreds of kites and helium balloons bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, into Israeli territory, sparking near-daily fires.

Earlier on Friday, a booby-trapped balloon was flown into Israeli territory, landing on a highway in the Sha’ar Hanegev region. Police sappers were called to the scene and destroyed the balloon and the explosive device attached to it in a controlled explosion, police said.

The military has sought to counter these kites and balloons with teams of soldiers operating drones. Israeli officials have deemed the drone program a success, but it has not provided a perfect solution.

The Tax Authority estimated that the damage so far amounts to upwards of NIS 5 million ($1.4 million).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed withholding tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority to pay for the damage, though critics are skeptical of the plan as the kites and balloons are being launched from Gaza, where the PA has limited control.

In two months of mass protests at the Gaza border, more than 130 Palestinians have been killed and thousands wounded by Israeli military fire. Dozens of the fatalities were members of terror groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have acknowledged.

Israel said its troops were defending the border and accused Hamas of trying to carry out terror attacks under the cover of the protests.

Protesters have hurled grenades, improvised explosives and rocks at soldiers, burned tires and flown hundreds of incendiary kites and balloons into Israeli territory, sparking dozens of fires.

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