Gaza balloon attacks re-emerge as threat to Israel

Bureij (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - As the bunch of brightly-coloured balloons floated into Gaza's evening sky, there was a piercing crackle of gunfire.

Moments earlier, the balloons had been launched by a group of masked young Palestinian men huddled near the Al-Bureij refugee camp.

They attached explosives to the weapon before setting it adrift towards Israel.

Israeli troops along the border tried to down the device, but the balloons floated on.

Explosives tied to balloons and kites first emerged as a weapon in Gaza, ruled by the Islamist group Hamas, during intense protests in 2018, when the devices drifted across the border daily, causing thousands of fires in Israeli farms and communities.

The Palestinians said at the time they wanted to foster constant fear and misery among Israelis as punishment for the Jewish state's crippling 13-year blockade of Gaza, which the United Nations has identified as the main cause of grinding poverty in the strip.

Israel blamed Hamas for the balloon attacks, which eventually stopped after the two sides reached secret agreements to slightly ease the blockade in exchange for calm.

But hostilities have surged again since US President Donald Trump released his controversial Middle East peace plan last month.

The plan triggered outrage among Palestinians, who saw it as a wishlist of Israeli objectives.

As tensions rose, Gazans again directed rocket-fire and mortars towards Israel, which typically struck back with airstrikes targeting Hamas positions in the strip.

And along with traditional weapons, Gazans once again sent incendiary-laden balloons across the border.

"We are not afraid and we will return to (using balloons) despite all the threats to target us," Abu Hamza, one of the young men preparing the devices, told AFP.

- 'Creating casualties' -

Like many things in Gaza, weaponising balloons is the work of many political factions.

The young men at the Al-Bureij camp said five major groups were involved in launching balloons, with ideological divisions among them.

Hamas, its ally Islamic Jihad and three other militant parties all have dedicated balloon-launching units, with the smallest being around 180 members.

But Israel holds Hamas responsible for all hostile action emerging from Gaza.

Tensions have eased somewhat since Monday when a delegation from Egypt, a longtime mediator between Hamas and Israel, visited Gaza to negotiate calm.

Yet even as the Egyptian delegation was in town, the men in the tent were inflating ballons and preparing explosives.

Group leader Abu Malek said the incendiary part of the weapon is called the "Yassin," a 900 gram (two pound) device named after Hamas's founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was assassinated by Israel in 2004.

He told AFP that Israeli kibbutzes (farming collectives) are a regular target and that the devices can reach as away as Beersheba, roughly 50 kilometres (31 kilometres) from Gaza.

"We're launching this missile to cause casualties among soldiers and in homes," he said.

Israel has at times tried to target the balloon assembly teams with airstrikes or tanks, but that is difficult due to the fast-moving nature of the groups and the potential costs were Israeli forces to enter Gaza.

In December, Israel unveiled a prototype of a laser called the "Light Blade," which could prove effective against balloons, but it is not clear when the technology will be ready to deploy.

- 'Rudimentary devices' -

Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya told journalists that there was no official decision to restart the balloon attacks following the fragile truce.

Young people decided "independently to return to launching balloons to pressure the (Israeli) occupation to end its blockade," he said.

Abu Hamza of the Descendants of Salah al-Din militant group told AFP his faction independently chose to resume attacks a month ago.

Palestinian political analyst Jamal Al-Fadi said the balloons "infuriate Israel because they are rudimentary devices and not traditional combat means."

But he said he expected the balloons would once again be stopped if Egypt brokered a durable calm.

Meanwhile, they keep flying. On Thursday afternoon, Israeli media reported that several bunches of balloons had floated into the Israeli town of Sderot, landing near a school and sending panicked residents fleeing to bomb shelters.

Abu Hamza confirmed his group would take instructions from the military and political leaders.

"If a decision to stop them comes, we stop them," he said.


More Related News

Israel says Hamas used
Israel says Hamas used 'attractive' women in thwarted cyberattack

Israel's military said on Sunday it had thwarted an attempted malware attack by Hamas that sought to gain access to soldiers' mobile phones by using seductive pictures of young women. The phones of a few dozen soldiers were affected, but the military "does not assess that there has been a substantial breach of information", said Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an army spokesman. Conricus said this was the third attempted malware attack by Hamas in less than four years, but that the latest effort indicated the Islamist group, which controls the Gaza Strip, had improved their capacity to wage cyber-warfare.

Israeli army: Hamas hackers tried to
Israeli army: Hamas hackers tried to 'seduce' soldiers
  • World
  • 2020-02-16 10:05:37Z

The Israeli military on Sunday said it has thwarted an attempt by the Hamas militant group to hack soldiers' phones by posing as young, attractive women on social media, striking up friendships and persuading them into downloading malware. Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters that the phones of dozens of soldiers had been infected in recent months, although he said the army detected the scam early on and prevented any major secrets from reaching the Islamic militant group. Conricus said this was the third attempt by Hamas to target male soldiers through fake social media accounts, most recently in July 2018.

Israel strikes Gaza, cancels easing of restrictions
Israel strikes Gaza, cancels easing of restrictions

The Israeli air force attacked Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip on Saturday in retaliation to rocket fire from the Palestinian enclave into Israel, a military statement said. The exchange of fire between both sides has escalated since last month after US President Donald Trump unveiled his Middle East peace plan, angrily rejected by the Palestinians as a capitulation to Israeli objectives. "Fighter planes and helicopters have targeted positions of the terrorist organisation Hamas in central Gaza Strip," including a military post, said the Israeli military, which earlier reported two projectiles had been fired into the Jewish state from the Gaza Strip.

Israeli military says 2 rockets fired from Gaza
Israeli military says 2 rockets fired from Gaza
  • World
  • 2020-02-15 19:47:24Z

The Israeli military said two rockets were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip on Saturday. The rockets set off warning sirens in nearby Israeli communities but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage. Palestinian militants in Gaza have fired a number of rockets and explosive balloons into Israel in recent weeks as tensions have risen following the Jan. 28 release of the Trump administration's Mideast initiative, which strongly favors Israel.

AIPAC distances itself from group behind anti-Sanders ads
AIPAC distances itself from group behind anti-Sanders ads
  • World
  • 2020-02-14 21:39:54Z

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is distancing itself from a political action committee that has run ads against Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. The political action arm of Democratic Majority for Israel, formed last year to bolster the party's support for Israel as its conservative government faces growing criticism from American progressives, ran a six-figure ad campaign in Iowa last month that questioned Sanders' health and his ability to defeat President Donald Trump in November.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply


Top News: Latin America