JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli jets struck nine targets belonging to the Islamist Hamas group in the northern Gaza Strip early on Monday in response to incendiary kites and balloons Palestinians sent from the territory that have damaged Israeli property, the military said.
Sirens also sounded in Israeli areas near the Gaza Strip at daybreak and the army said three rockets had been launched towards Israeli territory but one fell short in the Gaza Strip. No casualties were reported from the rockets or air strikes.
In recent weeks, Palestinians have sent kites dangling coal embers or burning rags across the Gaza border to set fire to arid farmland and forests, others have carried small explosive devices in a new tactic that has caused extensive damage.
The Israeli military has fired warning shots from the air and destroyed property belonging to the kite launchers but has refrained from targeting them. Some Israeli ministers have called for those launchers to be targeted directly.
Israel has drafted in civilian drone enthusiasts as army reservists, instructing them to fly their remote-controlled aircraft into the kites, an Israeli general said, but an effective means to stop the kites has yet to be found.
“These are terrorist acts that endanger Israeli residents living in southern Israel and damage extensive areas in Israeli territory,” the military statement said of the kites and balloons.
At least 125 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops during mass demonstrations along the Gaza border since March 30 and the men sending the kites over the fence believe they have found an effective new weapon.
Israel’s deadly tactics in confronting the weekly Friday protests have drawn international condemnation.
Palestinians say they are a popular outpouring of rage against Israel by people demanding the right to return to homes their families fled or were driven from on Israel’s founding 70 years ago.
Israel says the demonstrations are organised by the Islamist group Hamas that controls the Gaza Strip and denies Israel’s right to exist. Israel says Hamas has intentionally provoked the violence, a charge Hamas denies.
Around two million people live in Gaza, most of them the stateless descendants of refugees from what is now Israel. The territory has been controlled by Hamas for more than a decade, during which it has fought three wars against Israel.
Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade of the strip, citing security reasons, which has caused an economic crisis and collapse in living standards there over the past decade.