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Israeli airstrike targeted car of 'fire kites' unit leader in Gaza

A mini drone used by the Israel Defense Forces to tackle 'fire kites' from Gaza, shown to reporters on June 7 2018.
Shai Ben Ari/i24NEWS
Israel said earlier this week that some 200 fires had been started by burning kites in Israeli territory

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it fired "near a cell" launching flaming balloons in the southern Gaza Strip Saturday evening, as a number of fires raged on the border from earlier Palestinian firebombs, spreading quickly in the extreme heat. 

Later reports revealed that the strike targeted the car of one of the leading figures of the so-called "fire kites," known as the "kite builders unit." 

But Palestinian media claimed early Sunday, that the car had been empty during the attack. 

“Our forces attacked in an airstrike the vehicle of one of the leaders of a burning and explosive kite and balloon cells," the army said in a statement. "The attack was carried out in response to the ongoing launching of burning and explosive kites and balloons into Israel.” 

Gaza's health ministry reported two people injured from its "kite-builders unit" from the Israeli drone attack east of the al-Bureij refugee camp in the enclave.

Israeli firefighters and security coordinators were said to be working to contain the some 20 fires that ravaged fields, nature reserves, and nearly reached a military outpost.

One kite fell on the Israeli side of the border in the southern town Netivot and was found by police, but following an investigation found that there was no suspicion of explosives or fire.

Israel Police

A road was closed off due to heavy smoke in the Eshkol region, which borders with Gaza, while residents of the kibbutz were warned to close their windows and remain inside. In the area of Sderot, flames broke out near the railway tracks.

As part of a policy shift, IAF fired warning shots at a group of Palestinians who were preparing to launch firebomb kites.

A radar system by Israel Aerospace Industries' (IAI) Elta group enables Israel to use technology to detect devices used in flight control.

Palestinians in Gaza have resorted in recent weeks to flying kites that have molokov cocktails, firebombs, or similar low-tech incendiary devices attached to them.

Yesterday ​evening, IDF said that it had struck an observation post in the Gaza Strip belonging to the ruling Islamist group Hamas, after explosive balloons and flaming kites were launched towards Israel earlier in the day.

SAID KHATIB (AFP)

"The IDF views the use of incendiary balloons and kites with great severity and will operate to prevent their use," it said in a statement.

Initially, Israel said that it fired warning shots towards a "group of Palestinians preparing explosive balloons to be sent from southern Gaza Strip in Israel," in anticipation of mass protests and threats by Hamas to send thousands of flaming kites and balloons deep into Israeli territory.

By Friday evening, the IDF said there were no "extraordinary incidents" in what was a significantly muted day of protests despite Israel's preparations.

Since the start of the “Great March of Return” protests on March 30, the army has responded to an unusually large number of Palestinians making "highly organized" attempts to break through the border fence.

Coinciding with the end of the month of Ramadan, several thousand Gazans gathered near the border fence with Israel early Friday morning for traditional prayers to mark of Eid al-Fitr.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh who joined the worshippers near the perimeter fence, reaffirmed his commitment to the continuation of the protests. He lauded the recent string of protests and said they had “revived the Palestinian issue” and refocused international attention towards their cause.

On Thursday, Hamas threatened to fly 5,000 flaming kites and balloons some 40 kilometers into Israel on Friday in a new round of the weekly “Great March of Return” demonstrations. The militant group said at a press conference that the incendiary devices would be flown from various locations.

IDF Spokesperson's Unit

A group calling itself the “kite-builders unit” said that if Israel “doesn’t make use of the opportunity we are giving it” to end the blockade on Gaza, then it would “live under a siege of kites,” the Times of Israel reported.

Sparking fires in Israeli fields and causing millions of shekels worth of damage, the “fire kites” have quickly became a popular way for Palestinians to inflict damage on Israel without putting themselves in danger.

Avigdor Liberman, the Israeli Defense Minister, said earlier this week that some 200 fires had been started by burning kites in Israeli territory, which is now recorded closer to 300.

Israel’s military announced the use of mini-drones to counter the wave of kites after that, according to Col. Nadav Livne has an interception success rate of “over 90 percent.”

At least 130 Palestinians have been killed over the last couple of months in mass demonstrations on the border with Israel accompanied by flaming kites, laying explosive devices on the fence or throwing grenades and stones.

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