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Incendiary balloons from Gaza cause fires in southern Israel

What happened: Yesterday several dozen incendiary balloons were launched from the Gaza Strip, resulting in 26 fires in fields and woodlands on the Israeli side of the Gaza periphery.

  • There were also violent demonstrations in three locations along the Gaza border fence where Palestinians threw improvised explosive devices and fired firecrackers.
  • The violence on the Gaza border was in response to the ‘march of flags’ held yesterday in the Old City of Jerusalem. Around 5,000 people, mostly religious Jewish children and teenagers took part in the march. They rallied at the entrance to the Damascus Gate, and were then re-routed to enter the Old City via the Jaffa Gate and onto the Western Wall.
  • The march, organised by right wing Israeli groups, did not lead to any major security incidents in Jerusalem, but police made 17 arrests.
  • To ensure quiet, the police deployed more than 2,000 officers to maintain a large presence along the entire route of the march.
  • In addition, thousands of police were deployed in other locations across Israel, mainly in mixed cities, to avoid a renewal of violence seen last month.
  • In response to the incendiary balloons last night the Israeli Air Force attacked Hamas military installations in Khan Yunis and Gaza City, with no injuries reported.

Context: The march of flags is traditionally held on Jerusalem Day to mark the reunification of the city in 1967 and the first time Jewish sovereignty is re-established in the Old City in almost 2000 years.

  • This year on Jerusalem Day, the march was first re-routed then cancelled when Hamas fired rockets towards Jerusalem, which led to the IDF launching of Operation Guardian of the Walls.
  • For many Israelis, the right to march with Israeli flags through Israel’s capital Jerusalem is self-evident.
  • For others, the traditional route which usually includes entering the Old City through the Damascus Gate and marching through parts of the Muslim quarter is considered to be a provocation.
  • The new government could not cancel the rally, as it would have been perceived as cowering to Hamas’s threats.
  • To avoid confrontations, the march was re-routed, the decision was reviewed and approved by the new Minister for Public Security Omer Bar-Lev from the Labour Party.
  • A message was sent to Hamas via Egypt that any rocket fire would be met with powerful retaliation. Egypt in turn demanded that Hamas commit to not to escalate matters by firing rockets.
  • Israel also sent diplomatic messages to both Egypt and Jordan to reiterate that Israel did not wish to escalate in the situation.
  • Commenting this morning in Yediot Ahronot, Ben-Dror Yemini writes, “The fact that the entire country lives in the shadow of decisions made by a terrorist organisation—will it or won’t it fire—qualifies as victory for that terrorist organisation…The challenge facing the government that was inaugurated this week is to change the paradigm. The residents of southern Israel, hundreds of thousands of people, live in perpetual fear that is relieved only briefly and intermittently.”

Looking ahead: The IDF remains on high alert and is prepared for a possible resumption of fighting with Hamas, however the current assessment does not expect a renewed confrontation at this point.

  • One of the new Israeli government’s major challenges will be to try and find a mechanism alongside US, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and the UN to provide aid to the civilian population in the Gaza Strip, without empowering Hamas, including the money donated by Qatar.
  • Israel will also be looking to Egyptian mediation to resolve the issue of the two Israeli citizens and the remains of two IDF soldiers held by Hamas.

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