Shoot Palestinian Kite Flyers on Sight, Says Israeli Minister Ahead of Gaza Protests

An Israeli Minister has suggested shooting dead any Palestinians sending fire kites across the Gaza-Israel border, as emergency services battle to extinguish infernos set in nearby farmland and forests.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Tuesday that a policy of "targeted assassination" should be introduced for kite-fliers and Hamas commanders, to protect Israeli communities close to the border fence, The Times of Israel reported.

Palestinian protesters have been launching kites dangling coal embers or burning rags across the border fence amid mass demonstrations in the Gaza Strip. At least 120 Palestinians have been shot dead by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops along the border since March 30, and the protesters are turning to low-cost, low-tech options to inflict damage of their own.

A fire burns on the Israeli side of the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip near kibbutz Gevaram on June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Erdan believes the kite flyers pose enough of a threat to warrant lethal force. "I expect the IDF to handle these kite flyers exactly as they would any terrorist," he said, "and the IDF's targeted assassinations must also apply to these kite-flyers."

Accusing Hamas of facilitating the kites, Erdan added, "The kite launchers and Hamas commanders should be targeted for killing…Kite terror is very serious, and whoever sends them should fear for their life."

No Israelis have been hurt by the kite fires so far, but at least 2,250 acres of fields and nature reserves have been burned according to Reuters. Estimates for the cost of damage are as high as $2.5 million. The Israeli government says around 600 kites have been launched across the border since March 30 of which 200 reached Israel.

On Tuesday evening, Israeli emergency services were battling nine fires close to the Gaza border. One blaze briefly threatened a school in the town of Sderot, forcing authorities to close a highway and rush firefighters to the scene.

Palestinians prepare kites loaded with flammable material near the Israel-Gaza border in the central Gaza Strip on June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered that tax funds collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) be withheld to compensate the victims of the fire kites, even though the kites are coming from areas controlled by Hamas rather than the PA. The Jewish National Fund—which owns much of the land—has said it will sue Hamas in international courts, calling its actions "environmental terrorism."

Israel has been clearing Palestinian farmland on the Gaza side of the border since 2000 to give its troops a clear view into the coastal enclave. Israeli planes spray herbicide along the fence to maintain a 330-foot buffer zone, though in practice the chemicals damage crops beyond this limit.

U.S. President Donald Trump's Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, who has been vocal in blaming Hamas for the recent protest deaths, argued that the kites were being "deployed as propaganda and indiscriminate weapons." He said the "attack kites" pose a serious threat to Israeli communities and are not "metaphors for freedom."

The uptick in arsons comes ahead of new protests expected to take place on Friday. The marches were originally scheduled for Naksa Day on June 5 to mark the anniversary of the Six-Day War, after which Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. The demonstrations will now coincide with the last Friday of Ramadan. Extra IDF units are being deployed on the Gaza border in expectation of large crowds.