Jerusalem (CNN) – The Israeli Army launched airstrikes on Hamas targets in Gaza in the early morning after militants floated dozens of so-called “incendiary balloons” over the border fence with Israel.
Authorities said the balloons sparked at least 20 fires on Tuesday. Palestinian media reported that retaliatory Israeli attacks caused property damage, but no casualties were reported.
More balloons were launched on Wednesday, sparking at least four more fires, according to Israel’s fire and rescue authorities.
Although militants have been launching balloons into Israel for years, the Israeli army’s response with airstrikes in Gaza is a further escalation. Country officials said it was part of a message to Hamas that any provocation will be answered with force.
Former Finance Minister Israel Katz, who was in the cabinet during the last conflict with Gaza last month, said that after that operation, “we decided to change the rules.”
“For every attack in Israel, targeted assassinations and widespread attacks will be carried out against Hamas targets,” tweeted.
What are incendiary balloons?
They are relatively simple contraptions: helium balloons that often look like children’s birthday party decorations, attached to explosives or devices that are previously set on fire.
The militants launch the balloons from Gaza and the winds of the Mediterranean Sea help to propel them towards the Israeli territory.
What’s your objective?
Balloons are designed to scare, cause damage and start fires. Much of the land surrounding Gaza is fields, nature reserves or farmland. Aside from the explosives in the artifacts, which can fall into residential areas and cause injury or damage, balloon fires burn crops and nature reserves.
According to the Israel Parks and Nature Reserves Authority, these fires have burned more than 1,479 hectares of the area surrounding Gaza from 2018 to May 25, 2021. Israeli authorities say the fires have destroyed thousands of hectares of crops.
Since 2018, more than 4,208 hectares of the territory have been damaged by flying incendiary devices, not including Tuesday’s fires, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces said.
So far, the authorities have not reported any casualties from these incendiary devices.
Why balloons instead of rockets this time?
The balloons are a cheap way for militant groups in Gaza to send a message to Israel, without provoking the total military retaliation that often occurs when rockets are fired from the coastal enclave.
Balloons are easy to build and require little preparation for launch, compared to rockets, which are expensive and time-consuming to produce. Until now, balloons rarely, if ever, cause injuries.
The balloons on Tuesday are likely to have been launched in response to the Israeli government’s decision to allow a provocative march of the right-wing flags to take place in Jerusalem.
The Flag March is an annual parade in which Jewish groups, mostly nationalists, tour the Old City of Jerusalem carrying the country’s flags to celebrate Israel’s attainment of control of the Western Wall during the 1967 Six-Day War. The march often sparks tensions with Palestinian residents of the Old City.
On Tuesday, 33 Palestinian protesters were injured, including by stun grenades, rubber bullets and live ammunition shots, and six of them were taken to hospital, following clashes with Israeli security forces in the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem, as reported by the Palestine Red Cross.
In a statement Tuesday, Hamas claimed victory, stating that its tactics and protesters in Jerusalem had forced the Israeli authorities to change the route of the flag march and take other precautionary measures.
What does Israel’s new leader think about balloons?
In the past, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has lobbied former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take a tougher stance against Hamas and the launching of incendiary balloons, saying that Israel’s military should respond to them in the same way that it responds to the rockets aimed at their communities.
After the 11-day conflict last month, Israeli officials indicated that such acts as incendiary balloons would be countered with greater force, something that appears to be happening now.
In 2018, while serving as education minister, Bennett said the military should “shoot to kill” anyone who sends such incendiary devices over the border fence.