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In Gaza, a first in arson weapons: A flaming falcon

Daniel Ben David, regional director of the Israeli Jewish National Fund, and Erez Shtein, the group's northern director, hold up an incendiary kite that was flown over from the Gaza Strip. Israel is now claiming that Hamas is using flaming falcons to start wildfires.

RUTH EGLAS/THE WASHINGTON POST

By ALISA ODENHEIMER | Bloomberg | Published: July 17, 2018

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have used kites, balloons and flaming condoms to try to start wildfires across the border in Israel — and now a bird, according to Israeli authorities.

A falcon, outfitted with a harness tied to a steel wire with flammable material at the end, was found hanging in a tree near the Gaza border, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said in a statement Tuesday. Inspectors putting out a fire nearby found the dead bird Monday afternoon, the authority said.

This is the first time an animal has been used to ignite fires during weekly border protests that began in late March, according to the authority. The organization said it's considering filing a complaint under international treaties over the use of an animal for what it called terrorism.

"Apparently it's not enough to destroy nature with kites," the Israel Defense Ministry unit that handles relations with the Palestinians tweeted. "Now falcons are being used for terror as well."

Fires set by incendiary devices from Gaza have burned almost 7,000 acres of nature reserves and farmland in southern Israel, causing more than $2 million of damage, according to Israeli estimates. The airborne arson devices have become the weapon of choice for Hamas, which has set up a unit dedicated to making incendiary kites and balloons. Since the protests began in late March Israeli troops have shot dead more than 140 Palestinians, some of them unarmed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week Israel would not allow Palestinians to continue sending incendiary kites into Israel, and the army has targeted several squads releasing what it called "arson balloons," injuring two Palestinians in mid-launch Tuesday. In retaliation for the arson attacks, Israel announced new restrictions Monday on goods bound for Gaza, saying it would halt transfers of fuel and gas while continuing to allow in food and medicine.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem declined to comment on the Israeli claims about the falcon, but described the weaponization of balloons and kites as "non-military means" to fight what he called Israel's occupation of Gaza.

With assistance from Bloomberg's Saud Abu Ramadan.