Report: IDF drone fires at Gaza motorbike after arson balloons launched at south
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Report: IDF drone fires at Gaza motorbike after arson balloons launched at south

Army mum on claim it targeted suspect east of Rafah in southern Strip; no injuries; reported strike comes amid uptick in Palestinians launching incendiary devices into Israel

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Illustrative: Masked Palestinians calling themselves the "night confusion units" hold incendiary devices attached to balloons to be flown toward Israel, near the border with Israel east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 26, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)
Illustrative: Masked Palestinians calling themselves the "night confusion units" hold incendiary devices attached to balloons to be flown toward Israel, near the border with Israel east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 26, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

An Israeli drone fired at a motorbike that had been used by Palestinians launching airborne incendiary devices from the southern Gaza Strip into southern Israel on Thursday, Palestinian media reported.

The Israeli military refused to comment on the reports.

According to the Hamas-affiliated Shehab news agency, the Israeli unmanned aerial device fired at the motorcycle east of the city of Rafah in southern Gaza. No injuries were reported.

Thursday’s reported strike came amid a recent uptick in the number of cross-border arson attacks by Palestinians in the Strip.

On Wednesday, at least three incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza Strip landed in Israel or exploded en route, according to a Gaza-bordering local council.

A large bundled cluster of balloons carrying a cardboard model of a drone landed in a field in the Eshkol region on Wednesday afternoon, a spokesperson for the local council said. It was one of the largest airborne devices to reach Israel from the Palestinian territory in months.

A cluster of balloons carrying what appears to be a cardboard model of a drone that was launched from the Gaza Strip touches down in southern Israel on February 20, 2019. (Eshkol Security)

A short time earlier, another balloon with a suspected explosive device was found in an agricultural field in the Eshkol region, which borders Gaza, the local government said.

Also Wednesday, a balloon from Gaza exploded in the air nearby. It was not clear what caused the airborne explosion, though it appears to have been an explosive device rather than the balloon itself, as the sound was heard by fieldhands working nearby.

In response, IDF aircraft fired at a group of Palestinians launching the incendiary devices, the Israeli military said Wednesday evening, calling the target a Hamas post from which the airborne devices were launched.

No injuries were reported in the strikes east of the el-Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza.

A balloon carrying a suspected explosive device from the Gaza Strip touches down in southern Israel on February 20, 2019. (Eshkol Security)

The spate of arson balloon launches followed a Gazan balloon launch on Tuesday that sparked the first brush fire in southern Israel in months. The blaze burned grasslands in a wooded area outside the community of Kibbutz Kissufim in the Eshkol region. In addition, a helium-filled condom with a suspected explosive device attached to it was found outside another community in the Eshkol region.

Grasslands burned in a fire sparked by a balloon carrying an incendiary device from Gaza, February 19, 2019 (Fire and Rescue Services)

The Tuesday balloon attacks came as dozens of Palestinians took part in riots along the northern border of the Gaza Strip, across from Kibbutz Zikim, the army said.

Demonstrators burned tires, threw rocks at soldiers and attacked the security fence. In one case, rioters attempted to throw an explosive device across the border, but it failed to clear the fence and landed inside Gaza, the military said.

Israeli troops responded with tear gas and, in some cases, live fire.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, 20 people were injured in the clashes.

On Monday night, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip also rioted along the border with Israel, throwing dozens of explosive devices at the security fence and apparently sparking false reports of a mortar attack. At least seven Palestinians were injured by Israeli gunfire in the Monday clashes, according to the Strip’s health ministry.

Monday’s nighttime clashes came a day after an IDF soldier was moderately injured in clashes along the northern Gaza border and two days after an attack lightly wounded a Border Police officer, the army said.

Palestinians climb the security fence along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, during clashes east of Gaza City, on February 15, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The IDF believes Hamas or the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the second-largest terror group in Gaza, could attempt to draw Israel into a war by conducting an attack along the border — an anti-tank missile strike, an ambush from an undiscovered tunnel, or a similar psychologically significant attack.

IDF chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, whose tenure began last month, ordered the military to update operational plans for fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Since last March, the Gaza border has seen large-scale weekly clashes on Fridays, smaller protests along the northern Gaza border on Tuesdays, and periodic flareups between the Israeli military and Palestinian terror organizations.

Times of Israel staff and AFP contributed to this report.

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