Palestinians in Gaza have vowed to step up arson attacks on Israel after it toughened restrictions on the embattled enclave, blocking deliveries of fuel and gas.
The so-called “Sons of al-Zawari” unit have launched hundreds of kites and balloons ladened with coals and explosives at Israel since April during protests at the border. Their members, who often appear wearing Guy Fawkes masks, promised on Wednesday to continue their assault until Israel lifts a crippling 11-year-old blockade.
Israel, that has deployed drones to take out the $3 homemade weapons, said the attacks have sparked over 750 fires, burning more than 2,600 hectares of land. On Tuesday Israel reported that an incendiary balloon from Gaza landed in a preschool yard near the border.
On the same day Israel blocked all fuel and gas deliveries through its only goods crossing to Gaza until Sunday. They also reduced Gaza’s permitted fishing zone from six nautical miles to just three, strangling a vital financial lifeline for Gaza's 1.8 million inhabitants.
The kite flyers said in response they would launch more firebombs.
"Our units went out since the morning to fly their balloons... to prove to everyone that we do not receive orders from anyone and that our peaceful resistance continues until our demands are met and the siege is lifted,” they said in a statement shared online.
“The more [Israel] tightens the siege the more fires we will light. We will expand the oil slick to reach more and more distances,” they added.
Tensions between Gaza and Israel reached boiling point earlier this week, when militants fired dozens of rockets at Israel which pounded the strip with dozens of air strikes in the most intense exchange of fire since the 2014 conflict
Many feared the spike in violence would herald the start of the fourth war between Israel and Gaza since 2008. A tense truce, reportedly brokered by Egypt, is in place.
The bitter conflict has escalated over the last 12 weeks since hundreds of thousands of Palestinians began weekly marches on the border demanding the right to return to lands they were forced from during the 1948 war which surrounded Israel’s creation.
Since March 30, over 130 Palestinians have been killed, and tens of thousands injured by Israeli fire at the border fences. No Israeli has died.
The Palestinians maintain they are peacefully protesting against an occupation and have been fired on with live ammunition.
The Israeli army say protesters have been violent towards soldiers, attempted to cut fences and have caused hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage from the fire kites.
Israel decided to increase sanctions on Gaza piling pressure on 30-mile long enclave which already suffers from chronic electricity, food and water shortages.
Israel said between Tuesday and Sunday no fuel and gas deliveries would pass through Kerem Shalom, the sole goods crossing between Israel and Gaza.
Kerem Shalom, which is now only open for food and medicine on a case-by-case basis, had already been closed to most imports since 9 July.
It is part of a pledge by the Israeli authorities to take a firmer stance against the burning kites. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, who is under mounting political pressure, ordered the military to stop them.
The issue reportedly led to a debate between Israel's military chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot and far-right Education Minister Naftali Bennett during a security cabinet meeting on Sunday.
Israeli media reports said Bennett, who has ambitions to be prime minister, urged the military to open fire on anyone launching the kites.
Eisenkot was quoted as telling him there was a risk of firing at children.
Rumours had spread that Hamas, the militant group that has ruled Gaza since 2007, had agreed to halt the incendiary devices in a deal brokered by Egypt to stop Gaza being "dragged into a war”.
The kite flyers denied the reports on Wednesday saying they were "lies spread by the enemy". Hamas were not available for comment.