Israel responds to fire balloons under new policy

What happened: At least three fires started yesterday in southern Israel because of incendiary balloons released from the Gaza Strip.

  • The fires were extinguished after damage was done to field and woodlands in Eshkol Regional Council.
  • In response, the Israel Air Force hit a Hamas military camp targeting its infrastructure and weapons.
  • In their announcement, the IDF noted the site was located adjacent to civilian facilities including a school.
  • In addition, yesterday the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj.-Gen. Ghassan Aliyan, announced that the fishing zone off the Gaza coast would be reduced from 12 to six nautical miles in response to the incendiary balloons.
  • Maj.-Gen. Aliyan said: “The Hamas terror organisation bears responsibility for everything done in and from the Gaza Strip against the State of Israel, and it will bear the consequences of the violence that is being used against the citizens of the state.”
  • Hamas issued a statement following the air strike describing it as a “failed Israeli attempt to restore the reputation of the Israeli army, which suffered a defeat in the last campaign in the Gaza Strip”.

Context: Yesterday’s incendiary balloons were the first incidence of violence emanating from the Gaza Strip following three weeks of quiet.

  • Israel’s new government has made clear that they will not tolerate any violence emanating from the Gaza Strip. They are insisting that the rule for attacks from incendiary balloon will be the same as if attacked by rockets, and that every incident will be met with a military response.
  • However, the response is calibrated so as not to provoke further violence. In last night’s response, no one was injured.
  • In parallel indirect negotiations to reach a long-term ceasefire continue via Egyptian mediation. Hamas is reportedly demanding that more aid be allowed in for reconstruction following the fighting in May.
  • Hamas is also desperate for the renewal of the financial aid from Qatar.
  • There are three components of the Qatari money that is being negotiated: Fuel for the power plant, money for the poorest families ($100 a month) and salaries for the 23,000 Hamas government employees – overall $30 million a month.
  • Israel is keen to find a mechanism either through the Palestinian Authority or the UN, but Hamas has rejected both approaches. In the past, members of the current Israeli government accused the Netanyahu government of paying Hamas protection money for allowing the Qatari funds in unchecked.
  • Israel is also conditioning the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip and the transfer of financial aid on a prisoner swap deal in order to recover the bodies of two IDF soldiers killed in action in 2014 and two Israeli civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed held by Hamas.

Looking forward: Whilst Israel and regional partners are looking to reach understandings for a long-term truce, there are reports in Arab media that some personnel inside the Gaza Strip are looking to escalate tensions with Israel over the next few days.

  • The Qatari financial support is still held up as the sides cannot agree how the funds will be transferred, and more importantly, who will receive them.

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