Netanyahu visits arson-ravaged Gaza border, warns of a ‘protracted stuggle’
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'It doesn't end with one punch,' PM says

Netanyahu visits arson-ravaged Gaza border, warns of a ‘protracted stuggle’

Prime minister vows no ceasefire if the Palestinians keep sending incendiary kites and balloons into Israel

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 3rd from right, meets with heads of local authorities from the Gaza Strip border communities during a visit to Sderot on July 16, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 3rd from right, meets with heads of local authorities from the Gaza Strip border communities during a visit to Sderot on July 16, 2018. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday paid a visit near the Gaza border — an area whose residents saw hundreds of rockets and mortar shells fired at them over the weekend and endured months of fires set by Palestinian incendiary kites and balloons — warning Israel was in a “protracted struggle.”

Netanyahu cautioned that the IDF’s weekend pounding of the Gaza Strip would not be the final word in the ongoing violence and that Israel would not agree to any form of ceasefire as long as Palestinians continue to send the airborne devices across the border to start fires in Israeli territory.

“We acted with tremendous force against Hamas, the most powerful blow they have received since Operation Protective Edge.” Netanyahu said, speaking in the southern town of Sderot, where he met with leaders of local communities bordering on the Gaza Strip.

“I don’t want to tell anyone that the matter is over,” he said, referring to the fragile quiet Sunday, during which there were no rocket attacks.

The visit came after a weekend of violence during which Hamas and other terror groups fired some 200 rockets at Israel. In Sderot, three people were moderately injured when a rocket hit a home on Saturday. Israel responded to the rocket salvos with dozens of airstrikes on Hamas targets, with the terror group’s health ministry saying two were killed and over 20 injured. It was the biggest daytime Israeli attack on Gaza since the 2014 summer war.

“We need to be prepared for a protracted campaign. There is an exchange of blows; it doesn’t end with one punch,” he said.

Local security officers work to put out a fire, sparked by incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip, in the Hevel Shalom area of southern Israel on June 26, 2018. (Eshkol Security)

The airborne arson attacks have sparked hundreds of fires throughout southern Israel since April, destroying thousands of acres of farmland and nature reserves. According to Israeli officials, the practice began on a small-scale basis and was then quickly adopted and encouraged by Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel.

“As far as we are concerned, there is no such thing as a ceasefire which excludes the fire kites and fire balloons… This place, right now, this is the point of friction between Islamic terror and the Jewish state and we are determined to win.”

The government and military have come under intense domestic pressure to step up the response to the balloons and kites, which has mostly consisted of firing warning shots at cells launching the devices. Some southern residents have adopted the slogan “treat kites as you would rockets” — demanding that the IDF directly engage the arsonists.

People at the scene where a courtyard of a house was hit by a Gaza rocket in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, on July 14, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Netanyahu said he was confident that Israel would obliterate the threat.

“Just as we are now completing stopping the tunnels, and just as we are successfully acting to stop the mass assaults on the fences, so we have instructed the IDF to defeat and to stop the fire kite and balloon terror,” the prime minister said.

On Sunday, the Israel Defense Forces conducted three drone strikes against Palestinians launching incendiary kites and balloons at southern Israel, injuring three of them, Palestinian media reported.

The kites and balloons, some of which are booby-trapped with explosives, have wreaked havoc in the Israeli communities surrounding the Gaza Strip, sparking fires that have scorched over 7,000 acres of land and caused millions of shekels in damage.

A balloon loaded with incendiary material is flown toward Israel by Palestinians east of Gaza City on June 29, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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