Kites, balloons from Gaza spark multiple fires across southern Israel

A number of fires broke out across southern Israel on Monday as a result of incendiary kites and balloons launched by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, officials said.

Blazes were reported in the three main regions surrounding the Palestinian enclave: Hof Ashkelon to the north, Sha’ar Hanegev to the northwest and Eshkol to the west.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched hundreds of kites and helium balloons bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, into Israeli territory.

The daily fires sparked by these airborne arson devices have burned thousands of acres of farmland, forests and nature reserves in the regions around the Gaza Strip, according to Israeli officials.

The Tax Authority estimated that the damage will cost upwards of NIS 5 million ($1.4 million).

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has proposed withholding tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority to pay for the damage, though critics are skeptical of the plan as the kites and balloons are being launched from Gaza, where the PA has limited control.

The military has sought to counter these kites and balloons with teams of soldiers operating drones. Israeli officials have deemed the drone program a success, but it has not offered a perfect solution.

On Monday, a balloon laden with burning material landed on the roof of a storehouse in one of the communities in the Hof Ashkelon region, causing light damage to the building and surrounding area before it was put out, a spokesperson for the region said.

Multiple fires were also reported in the Sha’ar Hanegev region.

Some 500 dunams (124 acres) were burned near Kibbutz Or HaNer, a spokesperson for the region said.

Another 40 dunams (10 acres) were set on fire in the area around Kibbutz Mefalsim.

One blaze broke out in the community’s agricultural fields, another a little farther from Mefalsim, along the Route 232 highway leading to the nearby Kfar Azza, a spokesperson for the region said.

Read More: Times of Israel