Israel slapped new punitive measures on Gaza on Wednesday, slashing the permitted coastal fishing zone as airborne fire bombs continued floating into Israel, setting scrubland ablaze.
The Israel defence ministry said in a statement that the zone was cut from 15 nautical miles to eight “immediately and until further notice.”
“This is in response to the continued launching of incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip into the territory of the State of Israel,” it added.
A statement from the fire services in southern Israel said that fire inspectors concluded that the devices had started a total of 24 brush fires during the day, after 60 blazes reported Tuesday.
Typically the makeshift bombs consist of a large bunch of balloons carrying an improvised incendiary which ignites on impact. Some use kites.
Israel used fighter planes, attack helicopters and tanks overnight against a number of Hamas targets including “underground infrastructure and observation posts,” an army statement said.
It said the strikes were in response to the repeated balloon attacks from across the Gaza border in recent days.
No casualties have been reported on either side so far in the latest round of hostilities.
Israel closed its goods crossing with the Gaza Strip on Tuesday over the incendiary attacks and after Gaza’s Hamas rulers on Monday fired a volley of rockets into the sea.
The rockets were a “message” to Israel to let it know that armed groups in Gaza will not “remain silent” in the face of an Israeli blockade and “aggression”, a source close to Hamas told AFP.
Explosives tied to balloons and kites first emerged as a weapon in Gaza during intense protests in 2018, when the devices drifted across the border daily, causing thousands of fires in Israeli farms and communities.
The Islamist organisation and Israel have fought three wars since 2008.
Despite a truce last year backed by the UN, Egypt and Qatar, the two sides clash sporadically with rockets, mortar fire or incendiary balloons.
Palestinian analysts say cross-border fire from Gaza is often used as a bargaining tool to secure Israel’s green light for the delivery of Qatari aid cash into the territory.