(May 8, 2018 / Israel Hayom) Several fires erupted on Monday in Israeli communities near Gaza as a result of incendiary balloons sent by Palestinian rioters over the border into Israel.
A massive fire raged in Kibbutz Nir Am after a helium balloon fitted with a Molotov cocktail hit one of its fields. According to the local fire department, more than 25 acres of farmland were destroyed, and two highways in the area had to be temporarily blocked due to the thick smoke.
Incendiary balloons caused smaller fires in fields in neighboring kibbutzim Be’eri and Nahal Oz, less than a mile from the border.
Helium balloons fitted with firebombs are the latest terrorist tactic to be adopted by rioters in the Gaza Strip to harass Israeli communities near the border.
In recent weeks, incendiary kites sent over the border have caused dozens of fires that have destroyed hundreds of acres of wood and farmland.
According to Palestinian social-media posts, the use of incendiary balloons is growing in popularity as, unlike the kites, they do not require a handler and can be launched from anywhere in Gaza. The helium-filled balloons can also remain airborne for longer than kites and can travel deeper into Israel.
Yaakov Gabbai, head of the Negev District’s Fire and Rescue Services, told Israel Hayom that the incendiary devices sent across the border from Gaza are becoming increasingly sophisticated.
“Our firefighters will spare no effort to protect the residents,” he said. “They [Gaza terrorists] won’t defeat us. We have no intention of giving up, and we will deal with every event as necessary.”
Local farmers, who for weeks now have been seeing their hard work go up in smoke, were skeptical.
“We need a solution, but how do you tackle kites and balloons?” said Nahal Oz farmer Yehusuah Cohen. “We don’t have a solution. The only solution is to move far away from the border. If the state doesn’t help us that’s what will happen.”
Shaar Hanegev Regional Council’s security coordinator Eyal Hajbi was equally doubtful that the authorities would be able to counter the threat posed by the airborne incendiary devices.
“We are able to put the fires out eventually, but we don’t have the ability to neutralize these events. We have no control over those who send kites over the border,” he said.
He said that the IDF should aim to neutralize those who send incendiary kites and balloons over the border.
“If you can definitely see the person who is flying the kite, if you have them in your sights, you should shoot them in the arm or leg so they don’t do it anymore,” he said. “There’s no need to kill them, but you have to stop them from doing it again.”