Cluster of explosive devices land near Jerusalem

Incident comes after dozens of others landed in southern Israel over the last week.

Masked Palestinians release incendiary balloons near Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip   (photo credit: MAJDI FATHI/TPS)
Masked Palestinians release incendiary balloons near Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip
(photo credit: MAJDI FATHI/TPS)
Just days before dozens of world leaders are expected to gather in Jerusalem, a cluster of explosive balloons landed close the capital. They were dismantled by Israel Police bomb disposal experts.
The incident on Monday, in the area of Mesilat Tzion near the city of Beit Shemesh, caused no damage or injuries, and comes after several other clusters landed in communities in southern Israel over the weekend.
On Sunday, the Israeli military fired a shell toward a Hamas post along the Gaza border fence in response to the launching of an explosive balloon cluster from the blockaded coastal enclave, which had detonated over the college town of Sderot.
On Saturday, a cluster of incendiary balloons was found in Sderot, and on Friday, several balloons with explosive devices attached to them were found along Ashdod’s promenade. The beaches were closed off by the police until sappers had dismantled the devices to prevent danger to the public.
On Thursday, two clusters of explosives were launched from the Gaza Strip toward southern Israel, with one detonating soon after it landed. There were no injuries or damage caused. Police sappers were called to a residential neighborhood in Sderot on Wednesday after a cluster of suspicious balloons was also found.
In response, Israeli aircraft struck several targets in the northern Strip.
Over the past two years, Gazans have launched countless explosive and incendiary aerial devices into southern Israel, including kites, balloons and condoms, landing on major highways, on trees, and even in playgrounds or private yards, burning tens of thousands of dunams.
According to figures released by the military in July, a total of 1,400 dunams were destroyed in 2019 by the simple devices, a significant decrease from 34,000 dunams burned in 2018. The figures showed that there had also been a drop in the number of fires per day: two fires daily since the beginning of 2019, compared to nine fires per day in 2018.
At the peak there were 10 fires per day in 2018 versus 30 fires per day last year.
Firefighters responded to a total of 977 fires in the 2nd quarter of 2018, the majority occurring in the month of June with 623 fires, followed by May with 301 and 53 in April. A total of 190 fires broke out in southern Israel in the first half of 2019, again with a few in April, more in May, and about twice as many in June.
It took an average of five minutes for firefighters to get to the scene in 2019 compared to an average of eight minutes in 2018.
When the aerial devices first started to appear in Israeli skies, the army allowed them to land, unsure what damage could come of them. But as more and more flew in and the fields and forests of southern Israel went up in flames, the IDF deployed drones to cut the cords of the kites or intercept the balloons.
Several other civilian systems, such as the SMASH 2000 system, were also deployed to troops along the border fence to intercept the aerial devices. SMASH gives troops a precision anti-drone system on their weapon, with built-in targeting algorithms that can track and hit drones flying at high speed – at ranges of up to 120 meters – with the first shot.
At the height of the trend of balloon terrorism, the IDF called up reservists in the Homefront Command to battle the blazes alongside civilian firefighters.
The military has fired warning shots by unmanned aerial vehicles toward groups of Palestinians preparing the incendiary devices, in an attempt to deter them from being launched.