Palestinians from the Gaza Strip once again launched burning kites at civilian communities on the Israeli side of the border Tuesday, setting alight hundreds of dunams of farmland adjacent to Kibbutz Nir Am, Sapir College and Netiv Ha’Asara, according to a TPS report.
Ofer Liberman, the general manager of Nir Am’s farming operation, said the kibbutz has sustained dozens of kite attacks over the past month, in addition to rocket and mortar attacks that have set fire to the kibbutz wheat fields in recent years. He said the attacks have cost the kibbutz more than NIS 1 million in economic damages but added that the challenge here is far greater than dollars and cents.
“Look at this field,” he told TPS while surveying the damage from the latest attack. “They burned about 50 dunams – that’s about NIS 25,000 shekels in economic losses. But that can be made up with one shipment of wheat from Europe or the United States.
“The far more serious issue is the notion of Israel’s sovereignty here. That’s why the most important thing I do every morning is to raise the Israeli flag onto the tractors. I want the Palestinians to know and understand that we aren’t going anywhere.”
Despite the community’s steadfast commitment to developing the area – Nir Am is currently building 45 new housing units, and Liberman said the new homes have been completely taken by young families seeking membership in the kibbutz, meaning they see a long-term future here, according to a TPS report.
Still, the threat posed by the burning kites is unlike the challenge that border communities have faced from cross-border missiles since the year 2000, for the simple fact that they appear to be undetectable until it is too late to stop them: Standing in the community’s garage, just 500 meters from the wheat field, there was no indication of an attack until Liberman looked over the road and saw plume of black smoke rising. When we arrived less than five minutes later, the field was half-burned; 10 minutes later the thriving wheat crop had turned to ash.
On Tuesday morning, TPS reported that Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan said Israel should carry out targeted killings of Hamas leaders and Gazan terrorists launching flammable kites over the border to set alight farmlands and woodlands at the dedication of a new police station in Sderot.
“Given the fact that Hamas is allowing the kites to be launched, we must return to targeted killings, Erdan said in the wake of ongoing arson attacks that have burned some 2,200 acres of farmland and forests in the Gaza Belt region. “Today, the threats are of different kinds: tunnels, rockets; every time they find a new tool to hurt us. Our enemies are trying to erode our civil strength because they understand that they cannot harm the IDF, but they will not succeed in doing that either.”
“There will be a severe response to any attack,” Erdan said “Kite terrorism is severe, and whoever sends them should fear for his life.”
INN reported on Tuesday that the Keren Kayemet Le’Israel-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) announced that it will sue Hamas in international legal court for the severe environmental damage caused to KKL-JNF land in the area surrounding Gaza by firing of rockets and mortar shells, and from the incendiary kites sent to Israel.
To do so, KKL-JNF intends to recruit the help of international law attorneys whose expertise are lawsuits of this kind.
KKL-JNF World Chairman, Daniel Atar, who toured the towns surrounding the Gaza Strip today with KKL-JNF Management, said, “It is inconceivable that the international community would allow Hamas not to be held accountable and pay for its criminal acts; not only against the citizens of the state of Israel, but also against nature and the environment which have been severely hurt by this criminal environmental terrorism. Hamas has proved that they have no humanity; not just toward human beings, but also toward animals and natural resources.”
Atar continued: “We are going on a planting campaign with the children from the towns surrounding Gaza: Hamas burns forests – we plant them. We will prove that our lives here are founded on strength and growth.”
Since the outbreak of these events, 265 fires have been recorded, in which 2820 dunam (approximately 697 acres) of KKL-JNF forests have burned.
In yet another development, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas engaged in a phone conversation Monday afternoon to speak out and take action to do against a growing torrent of arson attacks perpetrated against communities along the Gaza border in recent weeks with flammable kites and balloons and against a spate of attempted violations of the border.
As firefighters in the Gaza Belt area battled blazes in several locations, Rivlin, in a call placed for the Muslim Ramadan festival, wished Abbas a speedy recovery following his recent hospitalization.
“The terror coming out of Gaza is a problem for both sides, and we need hear your voice on this issue,” Rivlin said, “We have to see how we can stop the arsons and the infiltrations,” he added.
Earlier Monday, TPS reported that Treasury Minister Moshe Kahlon addressed the issue of compensation for farmers whose fields were damaged by the fires, announcing an immediate compensation to the tune of 50% of the estimated damages, with the remainder to follow as soon as possible.
“Our farmers are strong people who have gone through hard times, and they will not be broken by the kite terror,” said Kahlon, “We view agriculture and the tending to the lands of Israel with the highest regard, and see it as an important economic sector,” he added.
Israel will settle accounts with Hamas and Islamic Jihad at a time of its choosing and will not accept a continuation of recent events along the Gaza border, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Monday, according to a TPS report.
“I would like to address the situation down south,” Liberman said at the commencement of the Yisrael Beiteinu weekly faction meeting, “First of all, it needs to be clear that we will not accept the routine of [molotov] kites, or riots on the border, or attempts to break through the fence and to damage [infrastructure] or violate Israeli sovereignty.”
“We will respond accordingly, I just want to emphasize that we will act in accordance with the Israeli interest, at a time that is convenient for us,” Liberman continued, adding that “I don’t usually keep an open account, and we will settle all accounts with Hamas, with the Islamic Jihad, and with the rest of the terrorists acting against us from within the Gaza strip.”
According to Liberman, over 600 flammable kites have been sent into Israel from Gaza since the beginning of the riots on the border at the beginning of April, 400 of which were successfully intercepted by defense forces. The 200 kites which did manage to reach fields, have set ablaze over 2,200 acres of farmland and forests.
Also on Monday, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said that Prime Minister Netanyahu is correct to use tax money collected for the Palestinian Authority to fund damages caused by flammable kites to the farmers of the Gaza Belt region, despite the fact that Israel holds Hamas, as the governing power in Gaza, responsible for the arson attacks.
“There is no reason for this damage to fall on the Israeli economy,” Levin told Army Radio.
“It makes no sense that we continue to give money to the Palestinians. Not only has the Palestinian Authority and Abu Mazen not helped to resolve the conflict for a long time, but they are the heart of the problem. They take the money and give it to the families of the terrorists that sit in our prisons,” Levin said.
Netanyahu’s instruction Sunday to withhold tax monies from the PA in order to offset damages caused by the burning kites followed weeks of cross-border arson attacks that have also included firebombs attached to kites and kites doused in petrol, set alight and then launched over the border, which has set thousands of acres of mostly wheat crops on fire and caused millions of shekels in damages.
The farmers evaluate the damage to be more than NIS 5.5 million, including the burning of the crops and the damage to their working tools.
Asked about taking money from the PA to offset damages attributed to Hamas, Eshkol Regional Council head Gadi Yarkoni said it makes no difference where the government takes the money from to compensate the farmers.
“The farmers need to get the money as soon as possible. The kites are a real terror; this should not be taken lightly,” Yarkoni told Army Radio.
Gaza Belt farmers also said they would ask the International Criminal Court in The Hague to indict Hamas Gaza leaders Yahya Sinwar and Ismail Haniyeh for the attacks. Shurat HaDin, The Israel Law Center, an NGO that aims to fight terrorism through legal means and combat boycotts of Israel, is expected to represent the farmers at the ICC.
In a related development, it was reported that Prime Minister Netanyahu said on Tuesday evening that the biggest threat to the world today is nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical Islamic regime like Iran after meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. The two discussed Tehran’s nuclear program as well as challenges posed to Israel by Tehran’s military presence in Syria.
In a press briefing following the meeting, Netanyahu told reporters that “now is the time to apply maximum pressure on Iran to make sure its nuclear program does not go anywhere,” but clarified that he had not asked Macron that France back out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal.
“I want to make it clear that I did not ask President Macron to leave the deal. I think that economic realities are going to decide this matter. So that’s not what we focused on. What I focused on is to stop Iranian aggression in the region,” Netanyahu said.
“Israel’s goal, which I think should be shared by all those who seek peace, prosperity and stability in the Middle East is a reconstructed Syria and the precursor to that is that Iran leaves Syria. All of Syria. it has no business being there,” he added
Netanyahu then turned to Gaza, countering the French president’s criticism of the move of the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May, which he said had “caused loss of life” and did “not help the peace process.”
Netanyahu said events on the Gaza border were not “peaceful protests, but violent riots” organized and paid for by Hamas.
By: Andrew Friedman
(TPS & INN)