The Israeli army wounded two Palestinians in the Gaza Strip attempting to launch incendiary balloons across the border into Israel, officials said.An Israeli military spokeswoman said an "aerial device" had fired at a group near the Gaza border that was launching "fire balloons" carrying flammable material into Israel.
Palestinian security sources said a drone had fired on people east of the al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip. Two people were wounded, according to Ashraf al-Qudra, spokesman for Gaza's health ministry.
Some 20 fires were started Saturday by balloons and kites carrying flammable material from the enclave over the border fence and into Israel, Eli Cohen, spokesman for fire brigades in southern Israel, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Since major border protests broke out on March 30, more than 300 fires have been recorded, he added. According to Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, of the more than 600 kites launched from Gaza so far, around 400 kites have been intercepted.
The kites have become a potent symbol of a wave of Palestinian protests that broke out on March 30 against Israel's crippling decade-long blockade of Gaza. The kites offer a safer way for Gazans to protest, inflicting economic losses on Israel, while remaining far enough from the border to avoid being shot. The Israeli army has been launching drones to damage or cut down the kites.
At least 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since then, the majority as they approached the border fence where troops have orders to use lethal force to prevent any infiltration attempts.
Israel has long been facing international criticism for its harsh response to mass Palestinian protests. Rights groups have branded open-fire orders as unlawful, saying they effectively permit soldiers to use potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters. Israel was sharply criticized by a U.N. human rights body for killing protesters in Gaza and treatment of the Palestinians, declaring it a "war crime" under the Statute of Rome. The high casualty toll triggered a diplomatic backlash against Israel and new charges of excessive use of force against unarmed protesters.
Israel has been accused of committing war crimes in its three wars in the Gaza Strip in the last decade. Last month, the Palestinians urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to launch an investigation into Israeli policies and actions in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, accusing Israel of systemic crimes. Israel has called the Palestinian move "legally invalid." Israel is not a member of the ICC and argues the court does not have jurisdiction. The ICC has conducted a preliminary investigation since 2015 into alleged crimes in the Palestinian territories, including West Bank settlement construction and war crimes by Israel and Hamas in the 2014 war in Gaza.
Compiled from wires
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