by Nikki Guttman and Israel Hayom Staff
One-third of Karmiya Nature Reserve destroyed, damage to local flora and fauna will take years to repair • IDF said to be working on drone countermeasures.
The fire in the Karmiya Nature Reserve, SaturdayPhoto: Nir Tzafrir
Palestinian kite terrorism took a heavy toll on the communities adjacent to the Israel-Gaza Strip border over the weekend, as some 40 fires reduced hundreds of acres of farmland and vegetation into ash.
Palestinian rioters sent dozens of incendiary kites over the border on Friday and Saturday, and hundreds of firefighters battled the flames for hours each day.
Israel Fire and Rescue Services said that so far, the Palestinians' "kite campaign," launched in late April, has sparked 350 fires that have eradicated nearly 7,000 acres of forest and agricultural land on the Israeli side of the border, affecting every community near the security fence.
Firefighters from all districts have been deployed to the Gaza vicinity to help local teams battle the blazes.
The largest fire this weekend destroyed a significant part of the Karmiya Nature Reserve, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority reported Saturday. The INPA said around one-third of the reserve – 75 acres of the 275-acre park – has been reduced to ash, causing untold devastation.
Flames raged for hours, fueled by the dry weather conditions. "At first, we couldn't use firefighting aircraft – they would be flying close to the Gaza border and the military forbade it," said INPA inspector Kobi Sofer.
He said rehabilitating the damage caused to the area's flora and fauna would take years.
Dozens of greenhouses and fields in the communities near the border sustained fire damage over the weekend as well and local farmers said that at this point, the damage amounted to tens of millions of shekels.
Kibbutz Kissufim spokesman Benny Hasson told Israel Hayom that "the government isn't protecting us. We've come to the point where we have no control over our daily routine – they [the Palestinians] control it. The fires enveloping the kibbutz have caused significant financial damage. The State of Israel has not imposed enough sanctions on the other side to make it stop."
Commenting on a suggestion made by the heads of some of the Gaza-vicinity communities, to hire Gazan to work in their fields so as to mitigate their dire economic situation, Hasson said, "How am I supposed to trust people who burn my fields, vandalize their side of the Kerem Shalom crossing, through which vital goods are delivered, and open fire on the Karni crossing, used by Palestinian patients to travel to hospitals?"
Ofer Lieberman, who oversees field crops at Kibbutz Nir Am, said the residents and farmers "are helpless against this phenomenon. We try to minimize the damage caused by the fires, but it's just crazy. It's not just farmland that's being destroyed is the vegetation around us. I hope the state will compensate us for both direct and indirect damages."
Danny Ben David, head of the Western Negev Region at the Jewish National Fund, said, "We carry out daily assessments of the damage and it's very frustrating because we have no idea when this [kite campaign] will end, or how. Each one [kite] causes hundreds of thousands of shekels in damages and we deal with dozens of them every day."
The military said it was working on countermeasures against the incendiary kites, with one official saying that drone technology is tested daily against them.
"We have the ability to tangle the kites' lines and bring them down where they can't cause any damage," Col. Nadav Livneh, head of the IDF's Testing and Quality Assurance Unit, which is part of the GOC Army Headquarters' Technology Division, told Channel 12.
"When you think of the financial issue, it's not just about the damage to the fields, it's about the trauma caused to the residents of the border-adjacent communities. If there is anything we can do to minimize this damage, we'll do it," he said.
Nikki Guttman and Israel Hayom Staff
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