Gaza border rioters take down 2 IDF drones on sixth week of protest
As IDF braces for sixth Friday March of Return protests on the trot, expected numbers dwindle, but Israel's southern residents edgy about Palestinians' increased use of incendiary kites—a new primitive weapon that has so far eluded the IDF’s high tech capabilities; rioters manage to intercept two IDF surveillance drones using slingshots after UAVs are used to cut wires, take down incendiary kites.
The "Great March of Return" protest on the Gaza border resumed Friday for the sixth week in a row, with IDF officials and residents of the Gaza vicinity weary of increased usage of incendiary kites intended to set fire to their fields as some 7,000 attend the violent demonstration.
Border rioters, using slingshots, managed to down two IDF surveillance drones used to monitor activities in the protest—a simple Phantom 3 drone and a more advanced Matrice type drone.
The IDF made clear that the scout UAVs were only used to document the border disturbances and that there was therefore no fear of classified intelligence being gathered from them.
The protesters published documentation of the downing of one of the drones, which was followed by cheers of joy and chants of "Allahu Akbar" (God is the greatest).
Additional footage from the scene revealed the drones were used to knock down incendiary kites.
Due to this, they were hovering at a relatively low altitude and were therefore easy targets for the protesters' slingshots.
Demonstrators, as per usual, burned tires, threw stones and firebombs at the security fence and IDF forces, and flew incendiary kites across the border fence in an effort to spark fires in Israeli territory.
IDF forces responded by means of riot control and live fire in accordance with the IDF's Open-Fire Policy.
The IDF Spokesperson stated that two attempts by a group of rioters to sabotage the border fence and cross into Israel in the area of the central Gaza Strip were foiled.
Medics said around 82 people were shot and wounded with live fire, another 800 treated for gas inhalation and the rest for other injuries.
In the early afternoon, the IDF warned rioters near the fence against attempting to breach it as some did in last Friday's demonstration.
"We do not want the situation to deteriorate," the IDF told protesters using loudspeakers. "We urge children against approaching the fence and advise adults to keep the children away from the fence and do so yourselves, because we are ready for any scenario.
"If you're thinking of doing what you did last Friday, you're making a mistake. We have forces on all nearby mountains, snipers and monitors. You have been warned."
During the evening dozens of Palestinians broke through the Kerem Shalom border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip, near the Egyptian border, and began to vandalize the site and sabotaged Israeli gas and fuel pipelines that supply the Gaza Strip for the use of its residents.
The IDF called it "a cynical act that harms the welfare of the residents of Gaza and the humanitarian effort being carried out by Israel and many other countries."
Hamas plans to sustain the momentum it has gained with the weekly rioting near the border fence until Nakba Day in a week and a half.
Seeing the effectiveness of incendiary kites, which have caused huge fires in southern Israel and destroyed crops, Hamas and protest organizers are encouraging their use.
"The kites caused damage and fear among the Israelis," Hamas said in a statement referring to Wednesday's fire at Be'eri Forest which reduced hundreds of dunams of woodland to ash.
IDF Spokesperson Maj. Avichai Adraeem, meanwhile, appealed to the residents of the Gaza Strip to warn them against sending incendiary kites flying into Israeli territory.
"The phenomenon of incendiary kites is not hidden from our eyes and we see it very severely," he tweeted, adding that "the IDF views Hamas as responsible for everything that happens in Gaza and that comes out of it."
Addressing the residents of Gaza directly, Adraee said: "Hamas is using you, and is pushing you towards the circle of terrorism."
Terrorism through arson
Hundreds of acres of JNF forests have beem set ablaze in the Gaza vicinity by incendiary kites launched from the strip since the start of the border riots.
Moshe Baruchi, a JNF ranger in the Negev region, said in an interview with Ynet that millions of shekels in damage had been caused to agriculture fields in the region.
"(But) it is not only about the money," he emphasized, explaining that it would take decades to re-grow the vegetation in the fields that were incinerated.
"We have been experiencing this phenomenon for several weeks now. Dozens of incidents, between four and five kites a day," he added, noting that on Wednesday it took only "between five and seven kites" to set Be'eri Forest ablaze.
"The kites are improvised from nylon and simple moldings, costing just a shekel and a half," he stressed, pointing at their efficiency. "(All they have to do is) attach to it a small Molotov cocktail or burning embers wrapped in a sack."
According to Baruchi, the JNF does not have the means to deal with the phenomenon, "but I believe that the army is working on it."
Since the offensive began some five weeks ago, hundreds of incendiary kites have been sent to Israel, setting ablaze about 800 dunams of agricultural fields and causing property damages worth an estimated half a million shekels.
"We do not really have the ability to cope with this," lamented Reuven Nir on Wednesday, the field crops manager for the kibbutzim of Kfar Aza and Mefelsim in the Gaza vicinity.
"We stay alert and as soon as we see a kite landing in a field, we rush to the place to stop the fire before it spreads to more and more areas," he said. "We have experience here in the Gaza vicinity. We went through everything. Rockets, tunnels, military operations, demonstrations, and what not. But this phenomenon is intolerable."
Elior Levy, Attila Somfalvi and Alexandra Lukash contributed to this article.