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Arson balloon discovered in Israeli kindergarten near Gaza border

Balloons loaded with incendiaries have been flown towards Israel during confrontations between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli troops east of Gaza City
MAHMUD HAMS (AFP)

An unexploded incendiary balloon was located in an Israeli kindergarten yard near the Gaza border on Thursday, as the prospect of renewed weekly border protests loomed after a deadly flare-up last week.

“A suspicious item was found in the yard of a kindergarten in the community”, a member of the Eshkol Regional Council said, detailing that after the discovery by a teacher, the children had been swiftly removed from the area.

The incident was “immediately” reported to the security officer who arrived on the scene and neutralized the object. There were no reports of casualties or damage.

A resident of the town told Ynet that the discovery of the device caused panic among parents. “It’s very worrying that the balloons are so familiar to us,” the resident said, “when it happens in your yard it’s very frightening.”

In a separate case, a security jeep in Kibbutz Alumim around 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the Gaza border caught fire. Fire and rescue services are investigating the cause of the blaze to decipher if it was sparked by an incendiary device launched from the coastal enclave.

The launching of airborne devices such as kites and balloons affixed with flammable liquids or explosives has become a new phenomenon used by Gaza protesters beginning during the initial months of the so-called 'Great March of Return’ protests that have been ongoing weekly since March 30.

In response, Israel has been hardened its response to the flaming devices, which authorities say have set ablaze more than 2,600 hectares (6,400 acres) of Israeli territory. This is not the first incident that has seen the balloons target kindergartens or playgrounds used by children.

MAHMUD HAMS (AFP)

On Tuesday the fire service was called to extinguish two fires in southern Israel said have been caused by arson devices launched from the Strip.

“I expect the government to show responsibility to its citizens and to put an end to the ongoing terrorism in order to ensure the security of the residents," Head of Eshkol Council, Gadi Yarkoni told Ynet.

The incident comes a day before expected weekly Friday protests along the Gaza border. According to the Gaza-based Health Ministry, last week seven Palestinians were killed amid clashes -- five were shot, one died two days after following sustained injuries, and another died after a grenade accidentally exploded in his pocket.

Only hours before the protests erupted this week, reports emerged that Egyptian intelligence officials -- who have been engaging in months of shuttle diplomacy -- had successfully brokered an understanding between Israel and Hamas. The agreement was set to include a reduction in Palestinian acts of violence including the launching of incendiary balloons in exchange for an easing of the Israeli blockade on the Strip.

Later on Friday and into Saturday, Palestinian militants fired over 39 rockets into southern Israel in a period of less than 24 hours. In retaliation, IDF fighter jets struck 87 Hamas targets and 8 Islamic Jihad bases in three military compounds throughout the coastal enclave.

The violence came to an end after Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian militant group who eventually claimed responsibility for launching the rockets, said it had agreed to a new Egyptian-brokered truce.

Meanwhile on Thursday, Israel agreed to allow the transfer of Qatari funds to Hamas in Gaza to pay the salaries of its government employers after reportedly refusing the militants group ultimatum earlier this week that border riots would intensify if the demand wasn’t fulfilled.

At least 214 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in months of protests and clashes along the Gaza border, dozens of which are said to be Hamas members.

One Israeli soldier has been killed since the protests and clashes began on March 30.

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