Palestinian ‘fire kite’ sparks massive blaze in Israeli fields along Gaza border

Largest blaze since Gazans started new arson tactic burns for six hours; 10 firefighting crews working since early afternoon to bring flames under control

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday flew a fire kite into Israel, starting a large blaze in fields in southern Israel that spread through dozens of acres of grasslands and agricultural fields, authorities said, the largest fire yet since the first use of these kites.

Ten teams of firefighters were called to the area, near Kibbutz Be’eri, and had gradually brought the fire under control as of Wednesday evening, according to a spokesperson for the fire service.

For the past several weeks, Gazans have been regularly flying kites to which they’ve attached containers of burning fuel into Israel; the tactic was introduced as part of the “March of Return” demonstrations, which began on March 30 and are due to continue through mid-May.

The mass protests are being encouraged by terror group Hamas, which rules Gaza, and whose leaders say their goal is the erase the border and liberate Palestine.

Smoke and flames rise from grassland Kibbutz Be’eri in southern Israel after Palestinians flew a kite laden with a Molotov cocktail over the border on May 2, 2018. (Screen capture/Rafi Bavian)

Wednesday’s fire near Be’eri, which spread across dozens of acres, was the largest blaze to date. This was likely due to the weather conditions — dry, windy and hot — that are ideal for fires to spread.

Palestinians hold a kite adorned with a swastika that is carrying a bombnear the border with Israel east of Gaza City, on April 20, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

Israeli soldiers succeeded in preventing another fire on Wednesday, reaching a kite bearing a container of burning fuel from Gaza as it touched down inside Israel and putting it out with handheld fire extinguishers.

The dry weather conditions prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to implore Israelis not to light bonfires on Wednesday night as part of the Lag Ba’Omer holiday, which is the traditional way to celebrate the festival.

The conflagration sparked by the kite covered swaths of grassland and agricultural fields in an area known as the Be’eri Forest, which has seen multiple fires caused by kites in recent weeks.

Palestinians on the eastern outskirts of Gaza City prepare a firebomb to attach to a kite and fly over the border fence with Israel, on April 20, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

The Israel Defense Forces has yet to develop a way to prevent these arson-by-kite attacks.

At best, soldiers monitoring the border from closed circuit cameras can spot a kite as it is launched from Gaza and call firefighting personnel to the area where it’s headed in order to put out the fire before it gets out of control.

Last Friday, four Palestinians were killed and over 300 hurt during a particularly violent demonstration along the border, which included a large-scale rush of the security fence. This brought the casualty count in the border clashes to 44 Palestinian dead and over 1,500 injured by live fire since March 30, according to the Gaza Strip’s Hamas-run health ministry.

These protests were originally dubbed by their Palestinian organizers as nonviolent, but Hamas took charge of them.

A Palestinian slings a shot by burning tires during clashes with Israeli forces across the border, east of Gaza City, in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 20, 2018. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Rioters have burned tires, hurled firebombs and rocks at Israeli troops, and repeatedly attempted to sabotage the security fence.

Israeli troops have used both less-lethal weapons and live fire to drive back protesters, prompting international — and, to a lesser extent, domestic — accusations of excessive force.

The Israeli military maintains that its use of live rounds is within the boundaries of Israeli and international law.

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