Hamas is planning to use exploding drones to step up ‎its arson terrorism campaign, Israeli defense officials ‎warned on Thursday.‎

Over the last three months, Gaza terrorists have launched hundreds of improvised incendiary devices across the border into Israel, setting more than 1,000 fires in border-area Israeli communities.

According to intelligence gathered by the Israel Defense Forces and ‎Israel Police, the terrorist group controlling the Gaza ‎Strip plans to step up the arson campaign and launch drones rigged with explosives deeper into Israeli territory, targeting ‎communities located farther from the border. ‎

Some defense officials expressed concern that ‎explosive drones could potentially reach Judea and ‎Samaria.‎

The Palestinian kite terror campaign has laid ‎waste to more than ‎‎8,200 acres of ‎forest and agricultural ‎land on the Israeli side of the border, causing tens ‎of millions of ‎‎dollars in damage. Environmental ‎experts say it will take at ‎least 15 ‎years to ‎rehabilitate the vegetation and ‎wildlife in the affected ‎‎areas.‎

According to experts, Hamas is now looking for a way to ratchet up the threat. ‎

So far, the incendiary kites have been fitted with fireworks, ‎burning coals, firebombs or various flammable ‎materials that spark fires as they crash on the ‎Israeli side of the border. ‎

Israeli intelligence suggests that Hamas terrorists ‎have recently begun adding timers to the fire kites and balloons, seeking to delay their combustion in hopes of keeping them airborne for a longer period of time and thereby increasing their range inside Israeli territory.

A kite with a timer mechanism landed this week in Moshav ‎Shekef, 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the Gaza ‎Strip, raising concerns that Hamas was field-testing their new devices.

‎“We are seeing an obvious trend,” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said on Thursday. “The number of fires ‎is increasing and more and more incendiary kites and ‎balloons are being launched from Gaza.”

‎“This is exactly why, from the first moment we ‎identified this phenomenon, I demanded we retaliate ‎against terrorist kites in the same way we retaliate when ‎terrorists fire rockets in order ‎to eliminate the threat to the southern communities,” continued Erdan.

‎“Our firefighters are doing an incredible job in ‎getting these fires under control quickly, but arson ‎terrorism will not stop unless we deter those launching kites and balloons over the border, and we ‎may also find ourselves dealing with fires in ‎communities much farther from Gaza,” he said.

Hamas terrorists, Erdan warned, “are constantly ‎increasing their kites’ range and they are using ‎other airborne devices. They may even reach Judea ‎and Samaria.”

Israel Fire and Rescue Commissioner David Simchi ‎announced ‎Sunday that his department had established a ‎special task force to combat ‎Palestinian arson ‎terrorism. ‎

The task force will divide the border-vicinity area ‎into two ‎sections and large firefighting teams will be ‎assigned ‎to each sector, equipped with a variety of advanced firefighting means and tools including ‎all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles recently ‎purchased ‎by the Public Security Ministry. ‎

The new vehicles are equipped with special gear to ‎‎carry water and flame retardants and are meant ‎to be used as a first ‎response ahead of the ‎firefighters’ arrival at the ‎scene. ‎

Also on Thursday, some 200 residents of Gaza border-‎adjacent communities protested in Sderot over “Prime ‎Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister ‎Avigdor Lieberman’s failure” to resolve the kite ‎terrorism. ‎

‎“We absolutely can’t allow this situation to ‎continue,” said local resident Avichai Cohen. “I’ve been living ‎near the Gaza border for years. We’ve been through ‎several military operations, and I can’t remember ‎such a display of impotence ‏and helplessness.”

‎“Kite terrorism is showing no signs of waning. ‎Why? Because the defense establishment has decided ‎that it can live with it; that it’s not worth ‎targeted killings or a military operation. I don’t ‎understand this weakness,” he said. ‎

Protest organizer Dvir Sassi, a resident of Sderot, ‎said the incendiary kites should be treated like ‎Qassam rockets.‎

‎“We’ve had enough. We just want to live our lives, ‎but Hamas terrorists are burning us to the ground,” said Sassi. ‎“This area used to be green and flourishing and now ‎everything is black and charred. We cannot remain ‎silent while terrorism runs rampant.”‎