After months of calm and a spring focused on stopping the coronavirus, the incendiary balloons and explosives launched from Gaza towards Israel have once again escalated the tension in the area: fires and retaliatory bombings return to mark a hot divide.
The image of kites and balloons with incendiary material or explosive devices launched by Palestinian youths flying over the tight dividing line and spreading flames in Israeli fields became common two years ago, but had stopped being seen months ago.
These days, however, the launches are repeated and firefighters and security teams are constantly on the move on the Israeli side where only yesterday there were eight large fires and 60 small fires.
The attacks with this mechanism have been happening intermittently, depending on the time, increasing or decreasing depending on the level of tension in the strip, governed by the Islamist group Hamas since 2007 and subjected to a strict blockade by Israel since then.
In recent months, the launch of balloons was reduced to zero, but last Thursday they were launched again and started fires on the Israeli side. Most are rather small, have not caused injuries and have not affected any homes, but in the height of summer they run the risk of spreading quickly and causing catastrophes.
In recent days, they have burned “between 200 and 300 hectares of fields, forests and a nature reserve,” explains Eyal Hagvi, head of security for the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, which includes a dozen Israeli communities bordering Gaza.
The situation is of great concern to farmers in the area, after many fires started from Gaza in the summers of 2018 and 2019 devastated the region, scorching some 3,500 hectares.
“We fear a return to the worst,” says Hagvi, who expresses particular concern about balloons with artifacts “exploding in mid-air” and could injure residents if the situation continues.
Israel has responded with various reprisals: in less than seven days, the Army has attacked Hamas military posts in Gaza on three occasions – the last one this morning – the troops have in some cases fired at those who were launching balloons and yesterday announced the closure. from Kerem Shalom, the only commercial step with the strip, essential for its supply of products of all kinds.
“Hamas is allowing” the attacks, denounced Defense Minister Beny Gantz, who yesterday warned that he will resort to more “forceful” actions if he does not stop “disturbing the peace and security of Israel.”
According to analysts and Gazans civilians, the launching of balloons responds to a growing malaise in Gaza, with an economy severely hit by the blockade and a population that suffers increasingly impoverishment.
This “pushes” groups of young people to launch balloons again “to transmit various messages to Israel” and denounce that it does not alleviate the blockade, Palestinian analyst Rami Abu Zubaydah said.