IDF to tackle rising Gazan fire threat

Palestinians hurl stones and burning tires near the Gaza border earlier this month. Photo: AP Photo/Adel Hana

AS Gaza arsonists branch out from kites to balloons, the IDF has started intensifying its response, with a series of strikes.

Militants in Gaza are becoming ever more enthusiastic about airborne arson, now sending helium balloons with blazing fuel attached, as well as burning kites, to set Israeli fields and nature reserves alight.

This week, the Israeli military has struck sites that the arsonists use to prepare their attacks, and also fired shots close to people launching balloons and carried out an airstrike on the car of the leaders of a balloon-launch squad.

Israelis close to the border, whose lives are impacted by fires, welcome the response “The military has changed its strategy and is targeting those launching the kites which is good — but it still isn’t enough,” Eyal Hagbi, security chief for the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, told The AJN.

He said on Tuesday: “Kite and balloon terror just isn’t stopping, and there are constantly fires. Every day there are fires and every day we are fighting them. Last night at a kibbutz there were more than 20 firefighters putting out a fire.”

The IDF stressed that it has “warned numerous times against these launches,” and said that they are considered “terrorist acts that endanger Israeli residents living in southern Israel”.

Kites and balloon weren’t the only threats to Israel from Gaza in recent days. There were several rocket launches towards Israel, sending residents in kibbutzim in to their shelters, and on Monday, five Gazans tried to sabotage security infrastructure by the Gaza-Israel fence, causing an explosion which killed one of them.

Meanwhile, Israel officials raised eyebrows on Tuesday, after Associated Press obtained a report from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to the Security Council in which he was “shocked” by the IDF’s use of live fire in Gaza protests and called the killing of children, press and a medic “particularly unacceptable”.

Israel’s rising concern about arson and other attacks from Gaza comes as America is expected to start promoting a new initiative for Gaza. The US is expected to try persuading Gulf states including Saudi Arabia to donate US$500 million to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza through development projects.

As The AJN went to press, Israel was preparing for the arrival of Donald Trump’s aides Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, for meetings that are expected to focus on America’s general plans for a peace process and plans in relation to Gaza specifically.

Israel has been nervous in the past about large-scale infrastructure development in Gaza, fearing that it could embolden Hamas. But if the White House is the key power delivering the funding and Gulf states are the donors, there is hope in Jerusalem that this could actually sideline Hamas in Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not commented specifically on the prospect of a US fundraising drive in the Gulf for Gaza, but he did say that Israel “welcomes all efforts that would improve conditions for the people of Gaza.” He stressed: “The people of Gaza are not our enemy. Hamas is.”

Netanyahu said that when it comes to Gaza, “Hamas is responsible for the terrible situation there and for the loss of life and suffering that has occurred as a result of the violent riots it has instigated over the last few weeks.

“Rather than improve the lives of the people of Gaza, Hamas is using the civilian Palestinian population as human shields in its unremitting terror war against Israel.”

Netanyahu claimed that the Palestinian Authority has “only made the humanitarian situation in Gaza worse” by cutting funding, yet Israel “will continue to seek ways to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza.”