Middle East

Suspected Gaza arson balloon sparks fire in south in apparent violation of truce

Suspected Gaza arson balloon sparks fire in south in apparent violation of truce

A fire in southern Israel was apparently started on Monday by a balloon-borne incendiary device launched from the Gaza Strip, firefighters said, in what seemed to be the first violation of a ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas terror group, following an 11-day conflict earlier this month.

The incident came as the Egyptian military met with top Israeli and Hamas officials in Jerusalem and Gaza, respectively, in a bid to negotiate a long-term truce between the two sides.

According to Fire and Rescue Services, the fire broke out in an agricultural field in the Sha’ar Hanegev region of southern Israel.

“A fire investigator from the Ashkelon station of the Fire and Rescue Services investigated the event and determined that based on the evidence it appears as though the fire was caused by an incendiary balloon,” the department said.

The blaze was quickly brought under control, the service added.

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The Israel Defense Forces has threatened major retaliation to any violations of the truce.

For the past three years, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, mostly linked to Hamas and other terror groups, have launched thousands of balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices into southern Israel, causing widespread fires and significant damage to agricultural fields, nature reserves, and private property.

Masked Palestinians prepare to launch incendiary balloons across the northern Gaza border toward Israel, on May 8, 2021. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Such arson attacks were meant to be halted as part of the ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.

In recent days, the head of Egypt’s intelligence services, Abbas Kamel, has led a wide-scale push to broker a comprehensive, long-term ceasefire, meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and other top Israeli officials, as well as with Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

Israel has made large-scale Gaza reconstruction contingent upon Hamas releasing from captivity two Israeli civilians and handing over the remains of two IDF soldiers. Hamas is unlikely to do so without Israel agreeing to free a large number of terrorist operatives from its prisons.

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