Balloon-borne bomb found in southern field after truce

Israeli official confirms concessions to Hamas in deal to end arson attacks

Source says restrictions will be reinstated if Gaza terror group doesn’t abide by terms; opposition MKs rip into Netanyahu over deal

Police sappers deal with a suspected explosive device found in a field in the Eshkol Regional Council on June 28, 2019. (Eshkol Regional Council)
Police sappers deal with a suspected explosive device found in a field in the Eshkol Regional Council on June 28, 2019. (Eshkol Regional Council)

An Israeli official confirmed Friday that the country had agreed to a number of economic concessions for the Gaza Strip in exchange for an end to arson attacks and other violence along the border.

“In response to a request from the United Nations and Egypt, Israel will return the fishing zone [to 15 nautical miles] and the flow of fuel, in light of a promise that Hamas will stop the violence against Israel. If Hamas will not abide by this commitment, Israel will reinstate sanctions,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

On Friday, despite the agreement, an incendiary device disguised as a book was sent into Israel on a bunch of balloons, while other balloon-borne incendiaries caused several fires in the border region.

Israel does not officially recognize ceasefire deals with Hamas, which rules Gaza, or publicly acknowledge dialogue with the terror group.

The UN and Egyptian-mediated agreement, which was reported early Friday morning by the Gaza-based Sawa news outlet, came after a rash of incendiary balloons were launched into Israel throughout the week.

Thursday alone saw at least 30 fires, likely the largest number started by Gazan balloons in a single day since Palestinians began launching the airborne incendiary devices over a year ago.

A firefighter works to extinguish a blaze caused by an incendiary device launched from the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on June 27, 2019. (Fire and Rescue Services)

A number of opposition politicians criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government following the agreement over its handling of violence from Gaza.

“This morning, like a recurring ritual, Hamas members thanked Benjamin Netanyahu for the reprieves he’s given them as part of a tendentious submission (‘calming’) agreement from us, and have sent residents of the State of Israel a huge cluster of balloons with an explosive charge,” Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman wrote on Facebook.

“The way to flee from and fail to address an ongoing terror attack of a hundred fires in a week along the Gaza periphery is to talk about the hundred nuclear bombs of Iran,” Liberman, who resigned in November as defense minister to protest a previous ceasefire with Hamas, added in a dig at Netanyahu.

“Anyone who is incapable of dealing with the Hamas terror group with action, will also only deal with a nuclear Iran with words.”

Blue and White MK Yoaz Hendel, Netanyahu’s former communications director, also ripped the agreement.

“The routine of rockets, fires and fake arrangements with Hamas in Gaza is a disgrace like no other,” Hendel wrote on Twitter. “Snap out of the hypnosis. This is what weakness looks like.”

A cluster of balloons carrying a suspected explosive device attached to an erotic Hebrew-language romance novel is seen in a field in the Eshkol Regional Council on June 28, 2019. (Eshkol Regional Council)

Shortly after the agreement was first reported, a cluster of balloons carrying a suspected explosive device disguised as a book was found in a field in southern Israel.

Police sappers were dealing with the suspicious object, a spokesperson for the Eshkol Regional Council said.

Photos of the device showed what looked like a hardcover copy of a Hebrew erotic novel titled “Loving Stella.”

At least four fires were sparked by incendiary balloons on Friday. There were no reports of damage or injuries.

It was not clear if the balloons, which apparently came from Gaza, were launched before or after the truce was reached between Israel and Hamas. A spokesperson for Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, known by the acronym COGAT, refused to comment on whether the balloon-borne bomb represented a violation of the agreement.

Since Sunday, approximately 100 fires have been started by balloon-borne arson devices, according to figures from the local fire department.

There have been no injuries reported in the blazes, most of which have occurred in agricultural fields and grasslands, but they have caused significant damage to crops and wildlife. Several fires were also reported inside Israeli communities in the Sha’ar Hanegev, Sdot Negev and Eshkol regions.

Arson attacks picked up considerably in the past week, with teams affiliated with Hamas launching hundreds of helium-inflated balloons and condoms carrying incendiary devices and, in some cases, explosives across the border into Israel.

In response to the ongoing attacks, which represent a breach of an unofficial ceasefire agreement between Israel and terror groups in the Strip, Israel halted the flow of gasoline and diesel fuel into the Gaza Strip Tuesday, a move that drew criticism from human rights advocates, who condemned it as collective punishment.

Fishing boats in the Gaza City port, June 25, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

The restrictions on the fishing zone had also been criticized for punishing fisherman who have no link to the airborne attacks. Last week, Israel extended the fishing zone to 10 nautical miles, after it had been closed entirely for several days.

The halting of fuel shipments marked a shift in tack for Israel. Over the past several weeks, the government has used various restrictions on the size of the Strip’s fishing zone as its primary method of retaliating for the arson attacks.

On Tuesday, a senior Hamas member warned Israel that its policies toward Gaza were endangering unofficial ceasefire understandings between the sides.

Earlier this month saw a fresh surge in serious violence between the two sides, including two nights of rocket attacks and retaliatory Israeli air force strikes.

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