Suspected incendiary balloon lands near kindergarten in Gaza border community

After a lull of several weeks without airborne devices launched from Hamas-run enclave, arson attempt discovered hours before threatened mass protests by terror groups

Suspected incendiary balloons discovered in community close to the Gaza border, December 28, 2018 (Police spokesperson's unit)
Suspected incendiary balloons discovered in community close to the Gaza border, December 28, 2018 (Police spokesperson's unit)

Police said Friday that a suspected incendiary device attached to a number of balloons was discovered in a community close to the Gaza border, and that sappers were called to the scene.

Hebrew-language media reported that the suspected device landed close to a kindergarten.

The discovery comes after a lull of several weeks for the airborne arson attempts from the coastal enclave, and hours ahead of threatened renewed violence at the border by terror groups during Friday protests.

Police reiterated a call for the public to be extremely careful around any such objects — balloons and kites — as they could contain dangerous explosive or inflammatory material.

Anyone who finds such an object should report it to the police call center and to leave handling of the device to sappers, the statement said.

Gaza protesters have launched hundreds of incendiary kites and balloons into Israel, sparking fires that have destroyed forests, burned crops, and killed livestock. Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials. Some balloons have carried improvised explosive devices.

An Israeli policeman watches a fire started by a balloon with attached burning cloth launched by Palestinians from Gaza Strip in Karmia nature reserve park near Israel and Gaza border, Thursday, October 11, 2018. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

With Gaza-based Palestinian terror groups threatening renewed violence on the border with Israel on Friday, defense officials issued a warning to Gazan civilians, telling them to stay away from the area or face injury.

“Residents of Gaza, what do you want your upcoming Friday to look like? Are you interested in it being spent with members of your family, or in unpleasant incidents on the security fence?” the Head of the Coordination and Liaison Administration to Gaza, Col. Eyad Sirhan, said Thursday in an appeal to Gazans via the Arabic-language Facebook page of the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit.

“The IDF will not tolerate incidents on the security fence. We, too, want a Friday without casualties among you, but this depends on you and you alone,” Sirhan warned.

“The IDF will not allow those disturbing the peace to approach the security fence or to damage it, and any attempt to harm IDF soldiers, or to violate Israeli sovereignty, will be answered with a determined response from IDF forces,” the Defense Ministry official added, concluding, “Keep your distance from the fence area; in so doing you will keep yourselves safe.”

A Palestinian carries a young man away from demonstrations on the border between Israel and Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 14, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

On Sunday, the military wings of several Palestinian terror groups warned in a joint statement that Friday will be “decisive” in determining their response to the killing of four people during border protests and riots last week.

The groups declared that they had prepared retaliation steps, and that whether it would be deployed was dependent upon Israel’s policy.

It will be “a decisive day in examining the Zionist enemy’s behavior and intentions toward our people in the March of Return,” their statement said, referring to weekly demonstrations and often-violent riots at the border with Israel, pushed by Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza, since March.

“It seems like the enemy has been missing the rounds of violence and the powerful reactions of the resistance, which will discipline it and stop it in its tracks,” the groups said.

The deaths were “a total crime and clear recklessness by the Zionist enemy,” which has “crossed red lines,” they continued.

“No funds, electricity, or water can stop us from undertaking our duty,” the terror groups declared, referring to the benefits that were reportedly part of an unofficial ceasefire that ended a round of heavy fighting in November. “It appears the enemy misses the rounds of fighting and the harsh responses of the resistance.”

They also claimed that those who died during the clashes last Friday were shot while they were 300 to 600 meters (about 1,000-2,000 feet) away from the border fence and did not pose a danger to IDF troops.

“This confirms there was a clear intention of shooting all the martyrs and wounded, who did not constitute any threat to the occupation soldiers,” the statement said. “On the contrary, they were demonstrating in a totally peaceful manner.”

A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to hurl stones during a demonstration near the border between Israel and Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on December 21, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had issued a warning to the rulers of the Strip, amid a spike in terror attacks in the West Bank. “I conveyed a clear message to Hamas — we won’t accept a situation of a truce in Gaza and terror in Judea and Samaria,” he told a cabinet meeting, using the biblical name for the West Bank.

Since March, Palestinians have been holding weekly protests on the border that Israel has accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of using as a cover for attacks on troops and attempts to breach the security fence. Israel has demanded an end to the violent demonstrations along the border in any ceasefire agreement.

Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seized control of Gaza in 2007 from the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, openly seeks to destroy Israel.

The Israeli army says around 8,000 Palestinians gathered along the border last Friday, burning tires and launching rocks and incendiary devices at soldiers, which did not reach the troops. It said soldiers opened fire “according to operational procedures.”

Three Palestinians, including a 16-year-old, were killed Friday, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry. A fourth Palestinian died after succumbing to wounds sustained in the protests, the Palestinian Safa news agency reported Saturday morning. The ministry said 46 were wounded. There were no casualties on the Israeli side.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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