Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of the high-level security cabinet, on Tuesday said Palestinians who send incendiary kites and balloons over the border into southern Israel should receive the same treatment as terrorists who fire rockets.
During a tour of the Gaza envelope area in which she was briefed by IDF officials on the situation in the area, Shaked said the threat posed by the arson devices was “no less grave than mortars.”
“A kite at the Gaza envelope should be treated like a rocket on [the city of] Ashkelon,” Shaked told reporters.
“The State of Israel must land an iron fist on incendiary kite launchers and terror operatives,” she added.
During the tour, Shaked entered a terror tunnel, dug by the Hamas terror group which rules the Strip, and which entered Israeli territory before it was discovered. She also toured fields that were burned by flaming devices tied to kites and balloons sent from Gaza.
Residents of local Israeli communities and farmers met the minister and told her of the problems they have faced during the three months of unrest on the border.
One resident said that “even a daily task for kids, like walking a dog, has become an impossible task. The government must eradicate this phenomenon.”
“The residents of the Gaza envelope are strong and determined,” said Shaked. “Farmers are working their land [despite the fires] and we, the government, should help them as much as possible. Agriculture is a basic Zionist value in building the land.”
Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched countless kites, balloons, and inflated latex condoms bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, into Israeli territory, sparking near-daily fires that have burned thousands of acres of farmland, parks, and forests.
Six fires near communities in southern Israel were caused Tuesday by incendiary balloons sent from the Gaza Strip, in another busy day for firefighters following the new Palestinian tactic.
On Sunday, the Eshkol region saw some 20 fires caused by incendiary devices, burning large swaths of agricultural fields and grasslands, the spokesperson for the region said.
Israeli leaders have been split on how to respond to those responsible for the airborne arson attacks, with some calling for the IDF to shoot the kite flyers and balloon launchers on sight, while others argue that it would be a step too far.
Likud MK Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet security service, said on Friday that the tactic could lead the two sides to renewed open conflict.
“Israel will find a way to stop this, even if that way turns out to be yet another military operation,” he said in an interview with Tel Aviv radio station 103FM.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.