A kite flies over the border in an area where kites and balloons have caused blazes, between Israel and the Gaza strip June 8, 2018. .
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN - REUTERS)
Three months after the first flaming kite was launched from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip towards Israeli territory, Palestinians have begun flying explosive balloons and condoms towards southern Israeli communities.
The simple devices – kites with burning rags or embers as well as booby-trapped balloons and condoms – are carried east towards southern Israel by winds coming off of the Mediterranean, and have confounded the IDF and Israeli politicians.
In an attempt to deter the launching of kites, balloon and condoms towards southern Israel the IDF has fired warning shots using drones towards groups of Palestinians preparing the incendiary devices.
While the damage caused by these devices has been contained to fields, forests and wildlife – with no human casualties so far – public pressure is mounting on the Israeli government and IDF.
Last week, Israel announced that it was limiting the entrance of helium into the Hamas-run coastal enclave which is used for various medical reasons such as for MRI machines.
According to the government, Palestinians have been using the gas to fill incendiary balloons and condoms in order to increase the distance they could travel. The decision was implemented by the coordinator of government activities in the territories Maj.-Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon following Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s approval.
“The entrance of helium gas into the Gaza Strip will be limited in light of the use of it by terrorists to fill incendiary balloons,” he said. “The Hamas terror[ist] group does not hesitate to use any means, including humanitarian services and channels, in order to carry out terrorist activities. This is despite the efforts by Israel to prevent a deterioration of the civilian situation in the Strip.”
But the limiting of helium into the Gaza Strip was not enough, explosive balloons and condoms continue to be flown into Israel. While the IDF had no comment on condoms being used by Gazans, these sturdier latex condoms have been found with explosive devices near communities in the South.
On Friday, one balloon bearing the message “I Love You” blocked a main highway in the South for an hour as a police sapper defused the explosive device attached to it.
On Sunday, in a clear change of policy, the IDF targeted nine Hamas targets inside the coastal enclave in a response to the launching of dozens of these devices over the weekend, causing at least 40 fires over a 48 hour period.
“These are terror[ist] attacks that endanger the residents of southern Israel,” the IDF said in a statement.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday called for the IDF to fire directly at Palestinians launching the incendiary devices, and not to only deter them by firing warning shots.
“Explosive kites and burning balloons are not a children’s toy. They are a deadly weapon meant to kill our children,” he said at the weekly Bayit Yehudi Knesset faction meeting, adding: “We must stop shooting near the target and move to shooting directly at it.”
But with many of those launching these kites, balloons and condoms, tending to be young children or teenagers, the IDF has so far not targeted any of them. But, if the phenomenon continues and leads to the loss of life in Israel, the IDF may decide to target key adult operatives behind the explosive trend.
While Israel’s Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit refused to comment on the legality of firing at those launching the devices, he said Monday that the incendiary kites and explosive balloons are “legitimate military targets.”
Gazans have been protesting along the border with Israel since March 30 as part of what organizers have called the “Great March of Return.”
About 130 Palestinian protesters have been killed by IDF fire and thousands more injured.
Demonstrators have been throwing stones, Molotov cocktails and rocks toward Israeli troops and flying incendiary kites into Israeli territory, destroying over 10,000 dunams of forest, nature reserves and agricultural fields.
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