Incendiary balloons continue to burn southern Israel

At least 19 fires broke out after Hamas warned IDF crossed a red line in latest retaliatory strikes that injured civilians.

Operations of the Ahfad Al-Nasser balloon unit in the Gaza Strip, June 13, 2020 (photo credit: AHFAD AL-NASSER BALLOON UNIT)
Operations of the Ahfad Al-Nasser balloon unit in the Gaza Strip, June 13, 2020
At least 19 fires broke out in southern Israel on Saturday as Palestinians continued to launch incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip.
The fires came hours after Israel struck targets in the coastal enclave in response to balloons that had been launched over the course of the day on Friday.
The strikes targeted sites belonging to Hamas’s naval forces, underground infrastructure and observation posts – were carried out by combat helicopters and tanks, injuring four Gazan civilians.
Following the strikes, Hamas said that Israel would “suffer the consequences” after the IDF crossed a “red line” when two children and two women were reported to be lightly wounded in the attack.
“The IDF has crossed a red line in a dangerous escalation by also targeting innocent civilians, and Israel will suffer the consequences,” warned Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for the Islamist group which rules the Strip.
According to the Palestinian Wafa News Agency, a three-year-old girl, an 11-year-old boy and a woman were injured east of Bureij refugee camp and other woman in Beit Hanoun was taken to hospital for her injuries.
The strikes also caused serious damage to homes in the area.
The IDF said that attacks against targets in the Strip were “carried out in response to balloons with explosives and incendiary balloons [launched] from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory over the past week,” the military said.
After a lull of several months amid the outbreak of the coronavirus, Palestinians in Gaza have once again resumed launching the devices from the blockaded coastal enclave leading to a fear of a new wave of violence in the area.
Despite the ongoing balloon launches, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi met with the heads of local authorities on Friday and told them that he believes that the phenomenon would not last long. Explaining that he understands the feelings of the residents, the IDF’s top military officer said that the military responds with all its might against the incendiary balloons.
The Palestinians had launched countless incendiary and explosive balloons from the Gaza Strip, igniting over 100 fires in southern Israel’s fields and forests over the past week, causing damage to the area.
In response, the Israeli military and airforce have attacked Hamas targets nightly, and the Defense Ministry has reduced the fishing zone off of the coast to eight nautical miles from 15, has halted the transfer of fuel into the blockaded coastal enclave and has stopped the passage of all but essential humanitarian supplies into Gaza.
Israel controls two out of Gaza’s three crossings, the pedestrian one at Erez and the commercial one at Kerem Shalom. Egypt is in charge of the third one at Rafah. Restrictions at Kerem Shalom are a measure of the level of tension between Hamas and Israel, and often precede a serious outbreak of violence.
Human rights and civil organizations called on Israel to resume the fuel and fully open Kerem Shalom, warning that “collective punishment that deliberately harms Gaza’s civilian population, particularly on the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Fuel is particularly essential for Gaza because it is used to power its electricity plant.
On Thursday morning Gaza Division Commander Brig.-Gen. Nimrod Aloni paid a visit to areas hit by the balloons and ordered an expansion of troop deployment to help the firefighting effort.
Tovah Lazaroff and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.