An Israeli aircraft fired at a group of Palestinians launching incendiary kites and balloons into Israel on Saturday, the IDF said, with Palestinian media reporting three people were wounded.
The balloons and kites caused fires in at least 15 locations in Israel on the Gaza periphery on Saturday, destroying hundreds of acres of fields and nature reserves.
In recent days Israeli aircraft have fired several warning shots at groups launching the flaming kites and balloons, apparently a new tactic that the military was looking to adopt in order to counter this threat, which has burned thousands of acres of farmland, forests and nature reserves in the regions around the Gaza Strip, according to Israeli officials.
It was not immediately clear if the aircraft fired a warning shot or actually targeted the group. Palestinian media reports said one of the injured was in a serious condition.
IAF aircraft fired at a terrorist cell which launched incendiary balloons in southern Gaza Strip
— Israeli Air Force (@IAFsite) June 16, 2018
Firefighters battled flames near the town of Sderot. According to the Ynet news website, one fire was raged near a military post on the border.
Earlier, firefighters put out blazes in the Kisufim area of the western Negev. The fires came amid an intense heat wave, with temperatures in the area hitting 40°C (104°F.)
On Friday incendiary balloons and kites set 11 fires inside Israel, which were extinguished by the fire services and local volunteers. A booby-trapped balloon was also flown into Israeli territory, landing on a highway in the Sha’ar Hanegev region. Police sappers were called to the scene and destroyed the balloon and the explosive device attached to it in a controlled explosion, police said.
Hamas threats to send 5,000 flaming kites and balloons into Israel failed to materialize, with many Palestinians busy with the three-day Eid al-Fitr holiday that caps the fasting month of Ramadan. Eid is traditionally a time of family visits and festive meals, with children getting new clothes, haircuts and gifts.
Attention may also have focused on the World Cup in Russia. Two matches featuring Arab teams took place Friday afternoon as Egypt — without the iconic Mohammad Salah — took on Uruguay, and Iran played Morocco.
At Kibbutz Nir Am Friday, children and residents launched balloons carrying candy towards the Palestinian enclave, Hadashot TV news reported.
Nir Am has suffered a number of fires sparked by burning kites flown from Gaza.
Hadashot news reported that Israel for the first time used a new radar to find kites and balloons, which were then intercepted by drones. The radar, initially designed to detect gliders, was calibrated to pick up the kites.
Also Friday Israeli military aircraft fired warning shots at a group of Palestinians in Gaza involved in the launching of burning balloons.
Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched hundreds of kites and helium balloons bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, into Israeli territory, sparking near-daily fires.
The military has sought to counter these kites and balloons with teams of soldiers operating drones. Israeli officials have deemed the drone program a success, but it has not provided a perfect solution.