Israel’s hardline Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has warned that the continued use of kites and balloons by Palestinian activists in the Gaza Strip would “force” Israel into waging another large-scale military assault on the Hamas-run coastal enclave.
“Hamas is forcing us into a situation where we will have no choice but to embark on a large and painful military operation,” Lieberman was quoted as saying by Israeli Hebrew-language daily Yedioth Ahronoth.
“Any reasonable person who sees the… farmland that has been scorched [by incendiary kites and balloons] understands the intolerable nature of the situation,” he told a group of Israelis living near the Gaza-Israel buffer zone.
In recent weeks, Palestinian activists in Gaza have been flying kites and balloons over Israeli territory as part of ongoing popular rallies along the buffer zone.
According to Israeli officials, these have caused a number of fires inside Israel, causing significant material damage but not resulting in any deaths or injuries.
Since the rallies along the buffer zone first began on 30 March, more than 140 Palestinian protesters have been martyred – and 15,000 more injured – by Israeli army gunfire.
Protesters are demanding the “right of return” to their homes and villages in historical Palestine from which they were forced out in 1948 to make way for the formation of the state of Israel.
They are also demanding an end to Israel’s 12-year blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has gutted the coastal enclave’s economy and deprived its roughly two million inhabitants of many basic commodities.