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AFP
February 15, 2020

Gaza balloon attacks re-emerge as threat to Israel

World

AFP
February 15, 2020

BUREIJ, Palestinian Territories: 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.

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.