Hamas threatens to launch 5,000 fire kites, balloons Friday

Terror group prepares for fresh protests on Gaza border, warns Israeli communities will 'live under a siege of kites'

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Illustrative image of a kite with a Molotov cocktail prepared to be flown by Palestinians during clashes with Israeli security forces on the Gaza Israeli border east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on April 20, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Source: Times of Israel, By MICHAEL BACHNER and JUDAH ARI GROSS, June 14, 2018

Hamas on Thursday threatened to send 5,000 fire kites and balloons deep into Israeli territory on Friday, when the Gaza border will see another of the weekly “March of Return” mass protests, Palestinian and Israeli media reported.

The Palestinian terror group, the de facto ruler in the Strip, said at a press conference that the incendiary devices will be launched from various locations in Gaza during the protest, which will also mark the first day of the Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday.

Hamas’s “kite unit” said that if Jerusalem “doesn’t make use of the opportunity we are giving it” to end the Gaza siege, Israeli communities near the enclave would “live under a siege of kites,” which it claimed would reach a range of 40 kilometers inside Israel.

The comment seemed to be a reference to reported indirect talks between Israel and Hamas for a long-term ceasefire in exchange for an end to the blockade on Gaza, which Israel maintains to keep Hamas and other terror groups in the Strip from building up military capabilities.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched hundreds of kites and helium balloons bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, into Israeli territory, sparking near-daily fires.

Illustrative: Firefighters extinguish a fire in a wheat field caused by kites flown by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip into Israel, May 30, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The use of 5,000 balloons and kites simultaneously would prove a major challenge for the army, which has struggled to find a solution to neutralize the threat. Aside from drones used to fishhook the devices out of the sky, the army has also begun firing warning shots at Gazans when it sees them about to launch kites and balloons.

Also Thursday, the IDF said it fired a warning shot at a group of Palestinians who were preparing to launch an incendiary helium balloon toward Israel.

This was the second time in less than 24 hours that Israel shot at Gazans as they attempted to start fires in Israeli territory with airborne arson devices. There were no reports of injuries in either of the Israeli strikes.

According to the Hamas-affiliated Shehab news agency, the Israeli warning missile was fired by a drone at the would-be balloon launchers, who were operating east of Bureij in the central Gaza Strip, near the security fence.

A video footage posted to social media showed the Israeli strike from the ground. A loud explosion can be heard as the missile hits a concrete structure in the area, and a cloud of dust and smoke can then be seen.

After the warning shot was fired, a number of what appear to be gunshots could be heard, apparently from Palestinian shooting at the drone.

A short time later, a balloon from the Gaza Strip landed on a fence on the town of Sderot’s Sapir College campus, forcing authorities to temporarily close down the area, a spokesperson for the regional council said.

A police sapper determined that the balloon had a simple pouch of burning material attached to it and not an explosive device, a local government official said. The area around the fence was then reopened.

A police sapper inspects a ‘fire balloon’ from the Gaza Strip that landed on a fence outside Sapir College in the southern Israeli town of Sderot on June 14, 2018. (Oshri Tzimmer)

This method of firing warning shots from drones appeared to be a new tactic that the military was looking to adopt in order to counter the threat posed by these kites and balloons, which have have burned thousands of acres of farmland, forests and nature reserves in the regions around the Gaza Strip, according to Israeli officials.

An IDF operator holds up his drone and remote control on June 7, 2018, in a field burned by ‘fire kites’ from the Gaza Strip. (Judah Ari Gross/Times of Israel)

The military has sought to counter these kites and balloons with teams of soldiers operating drones. Israeli officials have deemed the drone program a success, but it has not provided a perfect solution.

The Tax Authority estimated that the damage so far will cost upwards of NIS 5 million ($1.4 million).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed withholding tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority to pay for the damage, though critics are skeptical of the plan as the kites and balloons are being launched from Gaza, where the PA has limited control.