Fires rage across southern Israel despite reported agreement with Hamas

The balloons came despite Israel expanding the Gaza fishing zone up to 15 nautical miles starting at 10am and agreed to return 60 boats that had been confiscated from Gazans.

The results of a fire started by an incendiary balloon in the Beeri forest, September 24,  2018 (photo credit: YOAV SAAD/KKL-JNF)
The results of a fire started by an incendiary balloon in the Beeri forest, September 24, 2018
(photo credit: YOAV SAAD/KKL-JNF)
Several fires broke out in southern Israel over the weekend sparked by incendiary balloons on Friday as thousands of Palestinians demonstrated along the Gaza border, despite an understanding reached between Israel and Hamas to restore calm. 
A large cluster of balloons, carrying an explosive device disguised as a Hebrew erotic novel, landed in a field on Friday morning in the Eshkol Regional Council. Sappers defused the device and no damage or injuries were reported.
Fire and Rescue Services reported that 2 fires were sparked by incendiary balloons on Saturday after 14 fires broke throughout Friday. Some 30 fires broke out on Thursday caused by incendiary balloons.
Some 7,000 Palestinians violently demonstrated along the border where an IDF jeep caught fire after a Molotov cocktail hit it. There were no reports of Israeli injuries.
IDF troops used riot dispersal means against the protesters, including live fire. At least 49 Palestinians were injured. Eight medics and one journalist were also reported as injured, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
The balloons came despite Israel expanding the Gaza fishing zone up to 15 nautical miles at 10 a.m. and agreeing to return 60 confiscated boats. Israel also agreed to resume fuel delivery to the blockaded strip with a reported four trucks transporting more than 150,000 liters of fuel. Israel had stopped the fuel shipments on Tuesday after more than 100 fires broke out due to incendiary balloons. Two weeks ago, Israel imposed a full maritime blockade on the coastal enclave.
“In response to a request from the United Nations and Egypt, Israel will return the fishing zone [to 15 nautical miles] and the flow of fuel, in light of a promise that Hamas will stop the violence against Israel,” according to an Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “If Hamas will not abide by this commitment, Israel will reinstate sanctions.”
As part of the understanding, Hamas is said to have committed to preventing the launch of the aerial incendiary devices and ensuring that the border protests are nonviolent.
Gadi Yarkoni, head of the Eshkol Regional Council, responded to the report, claiming that “we have turned into a place where the enemy can do as he pleases, and if there’s a ceasefire agreement, it seems that the prime minister does not have to update us.”
Palestinians began launching the aerial incendiary devices more than a year ago during the “March of Return” protests, which have seen more than half a million people violently demonstrating every Friday along the security fence, demanding an end to the 12-year-long blockade.
Demonstrators have been burning tires, hurling stones and marbles, and throwing grenades and improvised explosive devices (including military-grade explosives) toward troops. High-velocity slingshots launched ball bearings and other projectiles toward forces along the border.
The incendiary devices have caused more than 2,000 separate fires, resulting in more than 35,000 burned dunams. According to the IDF, this land includes more than 13,000 dunams of nature reserves and more than 11,000 dunams of forestry.
Blue and White MK Yair Lapid took to Twitter to comment on the report, saying, “Why was the agreement signed? Because Hamas wanted. When will the agreement be violated? Whenever Hamas wants.”
Lapid added that “for the umpteenth time, a truce agreement with Hamas was signed. This agreement is equal to its predecessors, nothing. A few days of quiet and then we return to the routine.”
“Hamas holds and controls both sides of the fence, on the one hand, the civilian population in Gaza, and on the other, the communities surrounding the Gaza Strip,” Lapid said. “In its desire, Hamas sets flame to the area and wants to sign a truce. The Israeli government has lost all interest in the residents of the Gaza border communities.”
Yisrael Beytenu leader, MK Avigdor Liberman, also commented on the report, saying that “this morning too as in a recurring ritual, Hamas members thanked Benjamin Netanyahu for all the concessions given to them in the framework of the tendentious surrender agreement on our part, and sent a huge bouquet of balloons attached to an explosive device to the citizens of Israel.”
“The way to dodge the issue and not respond to an ongoing terror attack with 100 fires a week in the Gaza vicinity, is to talk about 100 nuclear bombs in Iran,” added Liberman. “Those who cannot deal with the terrorist organization Hamas using actions will only deal with the Iranian nuclear threat with words.”
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.