The Jerusalem Post

Incendiary balloons spark 20 fires in South


Dozens of Palestinia­ns clashed with soldiers along the Gaza Strip border on Tuesday, and at least 20 fires were sparked by incendiary balloons in the South, as tensions rose ahead of the planned flag march through the Old City of Jerusalem.

During the clashes, a Palestinia­n from the small group of instigator­s was shot in the leg and evacuated with a light wound, Palestinia­n media reported. Soldiers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at rioters to disperse them.

At least 20 fires broke out in the South, sparked by incendiary balloons launched from Gaza. Earlier in the day, Palestinia­n media published photos of terrorists preparing to launch incendiary balloons toward Israel.

Residents of the South said they saw and heard a balloon explode in the air, Israeli media reported.

Three Palestinia­ns were detained by the IDF after they crossed the border fence, Palestinia­n media reported.

Gaza’s so-called Night Confusion Units said they planned to return to action on Tuesday night. When in operation, the units riot along the border with Israel, launching explosives and setting fires.

As part of security preparatio­ns before the flag march, flight paths to and from Ben-Gurion Airport were diverted to take off toward and land from the North.

Iron Dome anti-missile batteries were reinforced ahead of the march, amid threats by Hamas in recent days and weeks.

After Operation Guardian of the Walls in mid-May, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel would respond forcefully to any act of aggression.

He said he “was not promising” to attack for “every rocket or balloon at 3 a.m.,” but he would retaliate when it was convenient

for Israel.

Last year, officials issued similar warnings after waves of explosive balloons were launched toward Israel. But after balloon launches earlier this year, the IDF’s responses were not as strong or as frequent as those carried out against the rockets that followed.

Hamas had called for a “Day of Rage” to confront the long-awaited and controvers­ial flag march on Tuesday, encouragin­g Palestinia­ns to mobilize at al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem’s Old City.

“Let next Tuesday be a day of mobilizati­on and a bond toward al-Aqsa Mosque, and a day of anger and defiance of the occupier,” Hamas said in a statement on Sunday. “Show God and your people what you have done in it, and be the best sword for Jerusalem and al-Aqsa.”

Palestinia­n Islamic Jihad on Tuesday said it would respond “with full force to the provocatio­ns of the settlers in the Holy City.”

It called for Palestinia­ns to gather throughout Jerusalem, especially at al-Aqsa Mosque and in areas where the flag march was scheduled to pass.

Additional Palestinia­n groups echoed the calls, calling for a confrontat­ion with Israel if Jerusalem was “violated.”

Gantz held situationa­l assessment­s on Tuesday with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, Police Insp.-Gen. Kobi Shabtai, and top officers from the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), the Coordinato­r of Government Activities in the Territorie­s and the Defense Ministry’s Political-Security Division.

During the discussion­s, officials were presented with the intelligen­ce picture as well as the deployment of forces in all sectors and the security plan for the march.

Gantz emphasized the need to prevent friction during the march and to maintain the security of all civilians, both Jewish and Muslim, and instructed that the message be heard by all relevant parties.

Anna Ahronheim and Jerusalem Post Staff contribute­d to this report.

Four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome will line up for this year’s race with Israel StartUp Nation as their road captain, the team announced on Tuesday.

Froome, who won the Tour in 2013 and from 2015-17, was not part of the Tour last year after being left out of the Ineos-Grenadiers squad.

“Chris will be our road captain in this year’s Tour de France,” sports manager Rik Verbrugghe said in a statement.

“As a four-time winner of the Tour, the value of his experience cannot be underestim­ated. It will be extremely useful for the team during the race.

“On a performanc­e level, I believe that we will see another improvemen­t from the Dauphine to the Tour after our recent training camp in the Alps. We hope to see Chris progress stage by stage throughout the race.”

Froome spent more than three weeks in hospital after breaking his neck, femur, elbow, hip and ribs in a high-speed crash in 2019.

The 36-year-old Briton said at the Criterium du Dauphine this month that his target was not winning the Tour this year but returning to his former levels.

“After two years away from the Tour de France I can’t wait to get back. It has been an arduous journey since my crash at the Criterium du Dauphine in 2019, but this has been one of my biggest motivation­s,” Froome said.

“I’ve been working tirelessly to get to where I am, and although my ambitions this year won’t be as leader, I hope to add my experience and support to the team as best I can as road captain.

“We have a strong contender in Michael Woods and I look forward to giving my all for him and the team in the battle to Paris.”

Froome has completed all four stage races he has entered so far in 2021 but his best GC result was a 47th-placed finish at the UAE Tour in February.

The Tour de France will start in the western French port of Brest on June 26. (Reuters)

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