The National / June 17, 2021
Hamas-linked units launch more incendiary devices in response to overnight air strikes.
Hours after Israel carried out overnight air strikes on Gaza in response to incendiary balloons floated out of the blockaded strip, Palestinian armed factions on Wednesday afternoon launched more flaming inflatables towards Israel.
Palestinian factions launched the incendiary balloons, causing at least 20 fires in Israel, in response to a contentious nationalist flag march in Jerusalem that reignited tensions after the recent 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Tuesday night’s balloons and retaliatory air strikes were the first since the March 21 ceasefire ended the latest round of fighting between the sides. At least 280 Palestinians were killed and at least 13 people died in Israel, including a soldier.
The strip’s Health Ministry said there were no casualties in Gaza after the Israeli strikes on Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades of Hamas in Khan Younis in the south of the strip.
The Israeli military said it responded to “arson balloons” and its “fighter jets struck military compounds belonging to the Hamas terror organization”. It said that it was preparing for any scenario “including a resumption of hostilities, in the face of continuing terror activities from the Gaza Strip”.
Incendiary balloons or kites are home-made attempts to start fires in the agricultural fields around Gaza. It was a common tactic of Palestinian armed groups and youth in the strip during mass border protests known as the March of Return in 2018 and 2019 and led Israel to ban imports of party balloons to the coastal enclave.
Ahfad al-Nasser, a member of one of Gaza’s Balloon Units, said they launched more on Wednesday with one adorned with the name of Mai Affana, a Palestinian woman killed by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank earlier in the day after what they said was an attempted ramming and knife attack.
Abu Hothaifa, a member of Islamic Jihad’s Balloon Unit, participated in launching the flaming balloons towards Israel on Tuesday and said they did so because of the Jewish nationalist march in Jerusalem.
“Firing the balloons is a response for the provocation from the flag march”, he told The National. “We are warning the Israeli occupation [not to] violate Jerusalem or Al-Aqsa Mosque,” he said.
Jewish nationalists on Tuesday marched through occupied East Jerusalem and chanted anti-Arab slogans. Palestinians consider the annual parade a provocative assertion of Israeli control over the territory, which they seek for the capital of a future Palestinian state.
Mr Bennett previously likened the flaming balloons to Hamas rockets.[shortened]
Nagham Mohanna is a print journalist at the Gaza Center for Media Freedom