Israeli drone fires at Gazans launching balloon-borne arson devices — report
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Israeli drone fires at Gazans launching balloon-borne arson devices — report

Palestinian media says no injuries as IDF aircraft twice target cell releasing airborne incendiary devices into southern Israel from east of Gaza City

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

A masked Palestinian man launches a balloon loaded with flammable materials toward Israel, east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 17, 2018.  (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)
A masked Palestinian man launches a balloon loaded with flammable materials toward Israel, east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

An Israeli drone fired twice at a group of Palestinians launching balloon-borne incendiary devices into southern Israel from east of Gaza City on Tuesday, according to Palestinian media.

No injuries were reported in the alleged strikes.

The Israeli military refused to comment on the reports.

Outlets in the Gaza Strip said the cell was targeted at approximately 3:30 p.m. as its members launched balloons carrying incendiary devices from east of the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City in an apparent effort to spark fires in southern Israel.

Less than an hour later, Palestinian media reported that an Israeli drone had fired at the group a second time.

The alleged drone strikes came as Egypt and the United Nations worked to broker a ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, which would see an end to not only the sporadic rocket fire from the Strip but also airborne arson attacks and other forms of low-level violence along the border, in exchange for economic concessions by Jerusalem.

On Tuesday morning, rocket sirens were triggered in the community of Yachini in the Sha’ar Hanegev region in what the military later said was a false alarm.

The incident came amid heightened tensions in the region, following last week’s exchanges of fire between Israel and Hamas, and recent reports that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is planning a large-scale terror attack on the Gaza border in order to derail the ongoing ceasefire negotiations.

Unnamed Israeli defense officials on Monday told Palestinian affairs correspondents from the Ynet news site and Channel 12 that members of the Iran-backed group had been seen conducting “suspicious activities” near the security fence over the past day. The group is also suspected of being responsible for two rocket attacks on southern Israel on Sunday that did not cause injury nor damage.

In recent weeks Israel and Hamas have been holding indirect ceasefire negotiations, with Egypt and the United Nations acting as mediators. Under the Egyptian-led plan, Israel is to offer economic incentives for Gaza in exchange for calm.

There appeared to be a breakthrough in the talks over the weekend, when Hamas maintained relative calm along the border during large Land Day protests on Saturday.

Israel, in turn, reopened its two crossings with the Gaza Strip on Sunday, having closed them last week after a rocket attack struck a home in central Israel and injured seven people, and on Monday significantly expanded the permitted fishing area around the coastal enclave.

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