Suspected arson balloons spark fires in south after Israel shuts Gaza crossings

At least 60 fires were blazing across southern Israel as Palestinians this week launched multiple arson balloons from the Gaza Strip after several months of calm.

Between the arson balloons and a rocket launched over an Israeli community last week, tensions appear to be escalating again. In response, Israel closed the main border crossing into Gaza while the Air Force attacked targets in the Palestine enclave.

Mayors from Israeli towns around Gaza called on the government to take strong action.

“Our daily lives are again and again interrupted, by ear-ringing explosions, by fires, but rocket launches on a constant and ongoing basis. All of this, during a medical and economic crisis, which has also left its marks on our region,” the mayors wrote. “We demand that the government put its disagreements aside and provide a permanent security response to the tens of thousands of residents of the Gaza periphery and Sderot.”

Residents also expressed frustration with the situation.

“We have no deterrence against Gaza. A Palestinian who wants to launch a balloon ought to think 100 times before doing so but he does not think even once because he knows there won’t be a firm reaction,” said Ofer Lieberman, agriculture director at a kibbutz near the border.

Israel closed the Kerem Shalom crossing “until further notice.” Food, fuel and humanitarian aid would continue to be allowed into the Strip, the Israeli military liaison to the Palestinians said. But the army appears to be concerned that a strong military response will provoke more violence.

The border police have deployed a new Israeli-made technology designed to intercept these balloons, drones and other incendiary devices. The Light Blade (Lahav Or) system utilizes laser technology that engages targets within 2 km., locks onto it and fires a laser beam at it causing it to incinerate in midair.

The border closing adds more strained to an already struggling Gaza economy. Hamas remained defiant and vowed to allow attacks to continue as long as Israel was restricting movement at the crossing.

The terror group spokesperson Abdel Latif al-Qanua condemned Israel’s closure of the crossing and, on Monday, Hamas fired rockets toward the Mediterranean Sea, as a “message” to Israel to let it know that armed groups in Gaza will not “remain silent.”