Incendiary balloons carrying missile warhead land in Israel-Gaza border area

Police sappers initiate controlled explosion in Sdot Negev Regional Council, where device lands; no injuries reported

A screenshot from Channel 13 showing a cluster of balloons with what appears to be a warhead, Match 9, 2019.
A screenshot from Channel 13 showing a cluster of balloons with what appears to be a warhead, Match 9, 2019.

Police sappers were called to the Israel-Gaza border area on Saturday after a cluster of balloons suspected of carrying an explosive device landed in Israeli territory.

Hebrew media reported that the balloons carried a warhead from an anti-tank missile.

The balloons were located in the Sdot Negev Regional Council. Police instructed hikers to keep away from the area as they carried out a controlled explosion.

The incident came amid a recent uptick in tensions along the border between Israel and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, as well as the return of incendiary balloon launches.

A screenshot from a Channel 13 report on March 9, 2019 showing a police officer at the spot where a controlled explosion of a cluster of balloons carrying a missile warhead took place.

On Friday, a rocket from Gaza set off warning sirens in the southern Eshkol Regional Council, as it landed in an open field, causing no injuries or damage. In response, the Israel Air Force carried out several strikes in the Strip, hitting a Hamas military base in the south of the territory and underground infrastructure in the north.

Friday also saw thousands of Palestinians take part in violent protests along the border, and two men, whom the Israel Defense Forces said were carrying a knife and a hand grenade, were arrested after crossing into Israel from the northern Strip. The two infiltrators broke through the security fence and evaded capture for approximately half an hour, forcing the Israel Defense Forces to bring additional troops to the area, as well as local communities to go on high alert and call up their volunteer security forces.

Friday’s protests were part of what Palestinians call the “March of Return,” a series of regular demonstrations and violent riots along the border fence that have been held since March 30, 2018.

Israel says the demonstrations are orchestrated by Hamas, which vocally supports them, sending free buses to the border and providing food and internet to participants — as well as money for those injured in them — in order to provide a cover for the organization’s nefarious activities along the security fence, including infiltration attempts, the planting of explosives and attacks on Israeli soldiers.

Their organizers have said the protests aim to achieve the “return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands that are now part of Israel, and pressure the Jewish state to lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave.

Israeli officials hold that the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants would destroy Israel’s Jewish character. They also maintain that the restrictions on movement are in place to prevent Hamas and other terrorist groups from smuggling weapons into the Strip.

The flying of kites and balloons carrying burning objects and explosives had been a main element of the weekly clashes on the Gaza border, ravaging forests and farmland in southern Israel and posing a threat to local residents.

Addressing the tensions in the south, former IDF chief of staff and defense minister Moshe Ya’alon said Saturday that while he believes Hamas is not interested in an escalation of violence, the terrorist organization was testing Israel’s patience.

“Hamas understands that we are before elections and that we are not hoping for a war, and it is exploiting the situation against us,” Ya’alon, a member of the newly formed Blue and White alliance, said during an event in the central Israeli city of Rishon Lezion, according to Channel 12 news. “Hamas does not want an escalation [of violence], but when they shoot about 470 rockets and we do not respond – this is the root of the calamity.”

Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beytenu party, warned that the situation along the Gaza border and in other areas could get much worse, and may even lead to the outbreak of a major war. “What is happening in the south is capitulation to terrorism,” Liberman said at an event in the Netanya-area town of Kfar Yona.

“The neglect of security in the north, the surrender to terror in the south, the growing coordination between Hamas and Hezbollah, may bring us within two years to a much more dangerous situation than even on the eve of the [1973] Yom Kippur War.”

Israeli troops respond to an infiltration by two Palestinian men from the northern Gaza Strip on March 8, 2019. (Yediot Mehashetah)

On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hamas that Israel would respond harshly to any further violence emanating from the Strip.

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