PM says government to pay for scrapped hot air balloon festival near Gaza
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PM says government to pay for scrapped hot air balloon festival near Gaza

Costs of annual major event, called off in August due to escalating violence, won’t fall on local, regional councils

Illustrative: Israelis enjoy the annual International Hot Air Balloon Festival at the Harod Spring National Park, in the Gilboa region, northern Israel, on August 3, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israelis enjoy the annual International Hot Air Balloon Festival at the Harod Spring National Park, in the Gilboa region, northern Israel, on August 3, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed his chief of staff to allocate funds to cover the costs of canceling a hot air balloon festival near the border with the Gaza Strip.

The festival at the Eshkol National Park was called off in August following a flareup in tensions between Israel and the Hamas terror group that had seen dozens of rockets and mortars fired at southern Israeli communities.

It was a significant blow to tourism in the region, as some 4,000 tickets had been sold for the annual event. The damage was estimated at NIS 700,000 ($190,000).

Netanyahu’s office said in a statement on Thursday that the prime minister has ordered that “[local and regional] council heads won’t bear the brunt of the cancellation.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on October 7, 2018 (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL Yedioth Ahronoth)

Local authorities said at the time that the decision to cancel the festival, made after consultations with army officials, “was necessary to ensure participants’ safety.”

The festival is one of the largest events taking place in southern Israel every summer.

Organizers told ticket-holders at the time that “after long deliberations, in light of the security situation the hot air balloon festival won’t take place this year. You are entitled to receive a full refund.”

The event was canceled on August 9, a day after some as 150 rockets were fired at southern Israel from the Gaza Strip.

The southern region has also seen regular arson attacks from Gaza, with incendiary devices carried by balloons and kites sparking hundreds of wildfires and destroying thousands of hectares of agricultural lands in Israel.

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