Suspicious balloons apparently flown from Gaza found in south

Police sappers dispatched to 2 localities to deal with suspected devices; one object blows up, causing no injuries

A cluster of balloons carrying a suspected explosive device launched from the Gaza Strip that landed in southern Israel on January 16, 2020. (Courtesy)
Illustrative: A cluster of balloons carrying a suspected explosive device launched from the Gaza Strip that landed in southern Israel on January 16, 2020. (Courtesy)

A number of suspicious balloons apparently launched from the Gaza Strip were found Thursday in southern Israel.

Police said that four balloons, three in Kiryat Gat and one in a community in the Shafir Regional Council, had suspicious objects attached to them.

Sappers were dispatched to deal with them.

“In one case the object exploded, with no injuries in the incident,” police said.

Hours earlier, a spokesperson for the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council said a suspicious bunch of balloons was found there. “Military forces immediately came to the scene and handled the situation successfully,” the spokesperson said.

The balloon launches came a day after Israeli television reported that Egypt is involved in “intense efforts” to get the Hamas terror group to end a recent uptick in arson balloon attacks on Israel from Gaza amid fears of a return to violence.

Terror groups in the Strip have continued to launch incendiary devices attached to balloons into Israel in recent days, undeterred by Israel’s threats to respond forcefully to Palestinian attempts to disrupt a major event in Jerusalem attended by many world leaders.

Palestinians prepare incendiary balloons near the city of Jabalia in the Gaza Strip, June 25, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

Egypt, which has been the primary mediator in recent efforts to achieve a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, was again involved and had persuaded Hamas to stop the balloon attacks, Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported, citing unspecified Palestinian sources.

There was no official confirmation of the report from Egypt or Hamas.

There were at least two attacks by balloon-borne incendiary devices on Wednesday.

Officials have assessed that Hamas could move to undermine the Fifth World Holocaust Forum, held in Jerusalem on Wednesday and Thursday — either by increasing balloon attacks at Israeli communities or by allowing other, smaller groups to fire rockets into Israel, the report said.

Tensions were also high after the Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday killed three armed Palestinians who infiltrated into Israel from Gaza.

Kan said Wednesday that the IDF feared that Hamas or other terror groups could fire rockets into Israel, either to try to avenge the three, or to disrupt the Holocaust memorial conference, and had bolstered the deployment of Iron Dome anti-missile batteries.

An Iron Dome missile battery set up in Sderot, southern Israel, near the border with the neighboring Gaza Strip on November 13, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A Monday report said Israel warned Hamas that it will respond forcefully to any attempt to disrupt the summit of world leaders, and will not hesitate to strike the terror group in the Gaza Strip in response to such provocations, regardless of the intensified international focus.

The tactic of launching balloons carrying explosive and arson devices from Gaza into Israel emerged in 2018 as part of a series of protests and riots along the Strip’s border, known collectively as the March of Return. The simple and cheap method of attack by Palestinians has proved effective as Israeli security forces have struggled to counter the tactic, but had largely stopped over half a year ago.

A senior Hamas official said Tuesday that the recent spate of balloons was a signal to Israel to accelerate unofficial “understandings” meant to ease the blockade on the territory ruled by the terror group.

Speaking to journalists, Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said the balloons had been launched by disgruntled individuals, not Hamas. But he said his group was “satisfied” with the launches and is ready to send more “if the occupation doesn’t pick up the message.”

The UN’s Mideast envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, called the renewed balloon launches “concerning and regrettable” in a briefing to the Security Council on Tuesday. “These actions are a risk to the civilian population,” he said.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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