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Flaming Kites From Gaza Thwarted by Unfavorable Israeli Winds

Known as the Great Return March, the protests began on March 30 as a campaign against the blockade of the isolated and impoverished coastal enclave and to press the Palestinian demand to return to lands in what is now Israel.

A popular initiative adopted by Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the territory, the campaign is expected to peak on May 15, when the Palestinians commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” referring to the 1948 war over Israel’s founding, during which hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes.

The Israeli military says it is acting within international law to protect its borders and nearby civilian communities from a potential mass breach of the fence and from terrorist attacks planned under the cover of the popular protests.

The fifth Friday of protest, on April 27, was the most concerted attempt to breach the fence so far. Hundreds of Palestinians, urged on by a Hamas leader in a fiery midafternoon speech, rushed it and tried to cross into Israel.

Dozens made it through a barbed-wire barrier about 30 yards inside Gaza territory. At least four were killed by Israeli fire.

Some protesters seemed to have concluded that if they could not cross the barrier, they could create scorched earth on the Israeli side.

“In the beginning we protested peacefully,” said a kite maker who identified himself only by his nickname, Abu Ayed, fearing Israeli retribution. “But when the peaceful resistance is exposed to live fire and violence, it has the right to use simple violent means like hurling stones and burning their farmland. This is self-defense.”

Abu Ayed, 26, and seven friends prepared 33 kites on Wednesday and Thursday, at a cost of about 8 shekels each, or a little more than $ 2.

His goal, he said, was to burn an Israeli military compound across the border, where tanks, jeeps and tents accommodate the snipers.

Protesters have been flying flaming kites since the third week of protests, but the idea had been to launch 400 on Friday, challenging Israel’s high-tech army with the most primitive means.

There had been talk in Israel of countering the flaming kites — a tactic said to have been used by Chinese and Korean generals in ancient times — with F-15s that would retaliate against Hamas targets deep inside Gaza.

A steady trickle of what the Israelis refer to as “terror kites” caused heavy damage over the past week, setting crops and woodland alight.

Nearly 400 acres of wheat ready for harvesting went up in flames, according to Gadi Yarkoni, head of the Eshkol Regional Council, which represents many Israeli communities along the border with Gaza. The damage was worth nearly half a million dollars, for which the farmers will get compensation from the state.

“The fate of a kite flyer should be the same as the fate of a Qassam launcher,” Mr. Yarkoni said, referring to the crude rockets that Gaza militants have fired for years into southern Israel, meaning that they would be risking their lives.

The sophisticated Iron Dome missile defense system Israel developed to counter the rockets would be no use against the kites, but the Israeli communities had firefighting teams ready in case the wind changed.

Source: NYT > World

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