A marketing campaign launched by the Ha-Ir chain of local Israeli newspapers has been used by Hizbullah to spread anti-Israel propaganda, according to which "Israeli poisonous balloon attacks" have left eight Lebanese nationals in the hospital.
Hizbullah's campaign appears to have paid off, after it created a wave of hysteria in Lebanon. Reports of 'poisonous' balloons have subsequently been picked up by the Associated Press (AP) and the London based Al-Jazeera magazine, which quickly followed suit in a report entitled: "Israel dumps suspicious green balloons on Lebanon”.
On Wednesday, Hizbullah's website claimed that "in Beirut's southern suburbs, poisonous balloons with Hebrew markings, similar to the ones found in the south, have been discovered. Security forces are currently investigating the issue."
Alon Idan, Deputy Editor of Ha-Ir in Tel Aviv, told Ynet that the balloons were released as part of a new marketing campaign for the chain of local newspapers, and drifted across the Lebanese border after being picked up by winds.
'Mysterious balloons unnerving people'
"These are celebratory balloons to market Ha-Ir," Idan said. "According to Israel Goldstein, CEO of the Shoken Network of local newspapers, (which owns Ha-Ir), one package of the balloons was picked up by the wind and flew off. These are marketing balloons. They contain no poison," he said.
As well as the balloons, Ha-Ir's marketing campaign has also included ads broadcast on Israeli television.
That did not stop Al-Jazeera from saying that " media reports and security sources revealed on Sunday that Israeli planes dumped 10 suspicious green balloons over the southern Lebanese port city of Tyre on Saturday."
The frenzied reports began last Sunday, when Hizbullah's English-language website said that "eight people were hospitalized Saturday after inhaling toxic gases from poisonous balloons dropped by Israeli warplanes over Upper Nabatiyeh in southern Lebanon."
According to Hizbullah, they "were rushed to hospital suffering from nausea and fatigue," and included "a Lebanese staff sergeant, a recruit and An Nahar reporter Rana Jouni."
The Associated Press reported on Monday that "mysterious balloons drifting in from Israel to Lebanon are unnerving people, with some south Lebanon villagers reportedly feeling ill and authorities warning residents against touching them."