Suspected arson balloons spark fires in south after Israel shuts Gaza crossings

Blazes reported near two communities amid calls for tougher action after day that saw over a dozen fires ignites by suspected launches from Palestinian enclave

Fire caused by a suspected incendiary device launched from the Gaza Strip, August 11, 2020 (Screen grab/Twitter)
Fire caused by a suspected incendiary device launched from the Gaza Strip, August 11, 2020 (Screen grab/Twitter)

At least two fires were ignited in southern Israel by suspected airborne incendiary devices launched from Gaza Tuesday, a day after Israel saw a rash of suspected arson attacks from the Palestinian enclave.

There were no reports of injuries from the fires, near Kibbutz Erez and Kibbutz Or HaNer, just a few kilometers north of the Strip.

The blazes came hours after Israel shut the Gaza Strip’s Kerem Shalom commercial crossing into Gaza “until further notice,” in response to a sharp uptick in launches of incendiary balloons.

Fuel and humanitarian aid, including food, would continue to be allowed into the Strip, the Israeli military liaison to the Palestinians said in an announcement Monday night.

Leaders of communities near the Palestinian enclave have demanded the government and military take action to stem the launches.

“We have no deterrence against Gaza. A Palestinian who wants to launch a balloon ought to think 100 times before doing so but he does not think even once because he knows there won’t be a firm reaction,” said Ofer Lieberman, the agriculture director at Kibbutz Nir Am, also near the Gaza frontier.

Israel has in the past launched air strikes against suspected balloon launchers, though the military, already dealing with a threat on the northern border, appears to be wary of allowing violence on the Gaza border to snowball.

The practice of launching balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices from the Gaza Strip toward Israel has waxed and waned over the past two years, with an uptick since the end of last week.

More than a dozen blazes were reported in and around Israeli communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip on Monday as incendiary balloon attacks from the Strip continued to ramp up.

A fire that was sparked outside Kibbutz Erez in southern Israel, apparently by a balloon-borne incendiary device launched from the Gaza Strip, on August 10, 2020. (Sha’ar Hanegev Region)

No injuries were reported, but 400 dunams (100 acres) of land in the Be’eri nature reserve was burned, Channel 12 news reported Monday night.

One fire was sparked inside a community in the Eshkol region, but it was quickly extinguished, a regional spokesperson said. Other blazes singed open fields before being extinguished.

On Monday morning, Gaza’s Hamas terrorist rulers fired  several rockets into the sea on Monday, after repeated exchanges of fire with Israel in recent days, Palestinian security sources and eyewitnesses said. At least eight rockets were seen in the sky, heading toward the Mediterranean Sea, said AFP journalists in the coastal strip.

The rockets were a “message” to Israel to let it know that armed groups in Gaza will not “remain silent” in the face of an Israeli blockade and “aggression,” a source close to Hamas told AFP.

This picture taken in Gaza City on August 10, 2020 shows smoke trails from test rockets fired by the Palestinian terror group Hamas, which currently controls the Gaza Strip, as part of military drills. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The closure of Kerem Shalom was likely to exacerbate the already dire economic situation in the Strip.

Gaza has been under Israeli blockade for more than a decade, since Hamas came into power in a violent coup that ousted the Palestinian Authority, led by the PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s rival Fatah faction.

Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent arms from reaching Hamas and other terror groups sworn to Israel’s destruction that could be used to attack the Jewish state.

Gaza residents, who already suffer economically due a blockade imposed on the Strip by Israel and Egypt, have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment, always high, is now over 60 percent. Over 35% of employed Gazans work in the public sector, which has seen reduced and delayed wages due to the Palestinian Authority’s fiscal crisis.

A Palestinian worker checks a truck carrying United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) aid supplies that arrived through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel to the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah on May 12, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Promised Qatari aid, meanwhile, has been delayed numerous times, leaving the Strip — always in a precarious situation — in a dangerous spot.

Palestinian reports indicated that construction materials would be particularly affected by the closure. According to the United Nations, about 48% of the truckloads that entered through Kerem Shalom carried construction materials, by far the largest category of imports.

While the Israeli government has said that it holds Hamas responsible for any and all violence from the Gaza Strip, rights groups call Israel’s practice of shutting border crossings with Gaza a form of collective punishment.

Kerem Shalom is the only commercial crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Two other crossings — Sufa and Nahal Oz — were both closed by Israel after Hamas  took over the Gaza Strip in 2007.

Tensions along the Gaza border have risen over the past week, reportedly due to delays in the implementation of an ongoing ceasefire agreement between the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group and the Israeli government.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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