2 said killed in riots on Gaza border, fire balloons cause blazes in Israel

Rioters try and damage fence, throwing rocks and explosive devices at soldiers; 55 Palestinians said wounded

Palestinians riot on the border fence with Israel east of Gaza City on March 22, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)
Palestinians riot on the border fence with Israel east of Gaza City on March 22, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Several thousand Palestinians were protesting along the Gaza Strip border on Friday, throwing explosive devices and rocks at soldiers who were responding with tear gas and occasional live fire. Palestinians said two people were killed.

Also Friday, a balloon carrying an incendiary device launched from Gaza set a blaze between homes in the nearby Israeli kibbutz of Nir Am. The fire was extinguished and there were no reports of injuries. Another blaze was started near Kibbutz Be’eri.

In riots along the barrier, Palestinians tried to destroy the border fence in several places, but were pushed back by the IDF. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said two Palestinians, an 18-year-old and a 29-year-old, were killed by live fire and 55 wounded.

On Thursday, an Israeli tank struck a Hamas military post in the southern Gaza Strip, hours after an airborne explosive device apparently launched from the Palestinian enclave exploded in Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces said the tank strike was in response to “exceptional” violent rioting by Palestinians along the border fence, as well as the launching of incendiary balloons and explosive devices toward Israel throughout the day.

Israel as a policy holds Hamas responsible for all violence coming from Gaza, which the Islamist terror group seized from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority in 2007.

A photo released by the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council showed the remains of a rubber tube that had contained the explosive material. The improvised bomb is believed to have detached from the balloons and exploded upon hitting the ground.

A police sapper was called to the scene and disposed of the device.

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

There were no reports of injuries or damage.

The launch of incendiary and explosive devices into Israel tied to kites and helium-filled balloons became a common tactic in violent protests along the Gaza border over the past year. Such attacks decreased in frequency since an unofficial truce came into effect in November, but have seen an uptick in recent weeks.

So far, no Israelis have been injured by the recent balloon attacks, though damage was caused to a home in the Eshkol region in February. Over the summer of 2018 balloon attacks caused fires in Israel that burned thousands of acres of farmland and nature reserves, as well as causing the deaths of livestock and other animals.

The border clashes are part of the March of Return protests, which call for the right of the descendants of Palestinians displaced in the 1948 Independence War to return to their homes and for an end to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade on the enclave. The protests have taken place weekly along the border since last March and have periodically escalated into major flare-ups between the Israeli military and Gaza-based terror groups.

Last week was the first time in nearly a year that there were no Gaza protests.

In response to the two rockets fired at Tel Aviv, which did not hit residential areas and caused no direct injury, Israeli war planes hit over 100 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip overnight Thursday-Friday.

The sky above buildings in the Gaza Strip glows orange during an Israeli air strike in Gaza City early on March 15, 2019 after 2 missiles were fired at Tel Aviv. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The rocket fire was thought to have been mistakenly launched by low-level Hamas members.

Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, is planning a major march on Saturday, March 30 to mark one year since the start of the protests, amid Israeli concerns over potential major violence.

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