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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Israel fires warning shots to stop Gazans flying balloons, kites

In first, Israeli military uses force to stop flight objects fitted with explosives

A Molotov cocktail kite is seen flying over the Israeli side of the border as thousands of Palestinian demonstrators gather near the border fence between Gaza and Israel, in southern Israel, 08 June 2018. Palestinians mark the Naksa Day, Al Quds Day (Jerusalem Day) and the last Friday prayer of the holy month of Ramadan. Abir Sultan / EPA
A Molotov cocktail kite is seen flying over the Israeli side of the border as thousands of Palestinian demonstrators gather near the border fence between Gaza and Israel, in southern Israel, 08 June 2018. Palestinians mark the Naksa Day, Al Quds Day (Jerusalem Day) and the last Friday prayer of the holy month of Ramadan. Abir Sultan / EPA

An Israeli aircraft fired a warning shot Saturday to deter a group of Gazans preparing to fly a balloon fitted with explosives over the border, in the first such case, the army said.

"The Israeli army spotted a group of Palestinians preparing balloons equipped with explosive devices to cause fires and serious damage on Israeli territory," it said in a statement.

"In response, an Israeli aircraft fired a warning shot near the group," it said, without elaborating.

The military said it was its first use of aircraft opening fire to deter Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip from launching fire kites and balloons over the border into southern Israel.

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.

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At least 124 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.

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,

According to Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, of the more than 600 kites launched from Gaza so far, around 400 kites have been intercepted.