Israel strikes Gaza after incendiary balloon fires in border region

Middle East Eye  /  July 26, 2021

Israel also halves the fishing zone off Gaza’s coast, just two weeks after re-expanding it to allow more imports into the Palestinian territory.

Israeli forces hit Gaza with air strikes on Sunday after incendiary balloons launched from the Palestinian enclave into Israel caused fires, with no reported injuries on either side. 

The Israeli strikes targeted an open area in northern Gaza and a training site belonging to the strip’s Hamas rulers in southern Khan Yunis, Palestinian security sources told AFP. 

The strikes came after Israel cut the fishing zone off the blockaded coastal territory by half, a common response following projectile attacks by armed groups in Gaza.  

Israel’s army had no immediate comment on the strikes, but the military branch responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories (Cogat) said the fishing zone had been reduced from 12 nautical miles to six. 

“The decision was made following the continued launching of incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, which constitutes a violation of Israeli sovereignty,” it said in a statement. 

Hamas was “responsible for all activities within the Gaza Strip and all actions originating in the Gaza Strip directed towards the state of Israel”, Cogat said. 

“It will therefore bear the consequences for the violence committed against the citizens of the state of Israel.”

Earlier Sunday, Israeli firefighters said they extinguished brush blazes at three spots in the Eshkol region near the border, blaming “incendiary balloons” as the cause. 

The balloons are basic devices intended to set fire to farmland surrounding the Israeli-blockaded Palestinian enclave.

On 12 July, Israel announced it was re-expanding the fishing zone off Gaza and allowing additional imports into the Palestinian territory but warned the measure could be reversed in response to fresh unrest. 

An 11-day conflict in May saw Israel launch hundreds of air strikes on Gaza, devastaing the enclave and killing 248 Palestinians, and Hamas fire thousands of rockets at Israel, killing 13 people.

Prior to the May conflict, the Gaza fishing zone was 15 nautical miles, but Israel reduced it during its military campaign.

There has been sporadic unrest since a ceasefire ended the violence, with incendiary balloons launched from Gaza and Israeli reprisal air strikes targeting facilities belonging to Hamas. No casualties have been reported.

The last time balloons from Gaza caused a fire in Israel was early this month.