JERUSALEM — Israeli police are watching from above in their attempts to keep control in Jerusalem in the face of the city’s worst wave of violence in nearly a decade.
Police have been flying surveillance balloons over the city’s eastern sector and Old City — the location of its most sensitive holy sites — to monitor protests and move in on them quickly. They say the puffy white balloons, which carry a rotating spherical camera pod, have greatly helped quell the unrest. But the eyes in the sky are unnerving Palestinians.
“They want to discover everything that’s going on. (They see) who is going, who is coming, who is that person,” said Imad Muna, who works at a local bookstore.
The Israeli company that makes the Skystar 180 aerostat system says the balloons can stay in the air for 72 hours and carry highly sensitive cameras.
Rami Shmueli, the CEO of RT LTA Systems Ltd, said his company gives police a “third dimension” in their quest to quell tensions in east Jerusalem, where they have been clashing regularly with masked youths hurling rocks and firebombs.
“We give them an aerial view of the streets and those people who are throwing stones. We can detect them even if they hide behind buildings or in gardens,” said Shmueli. “When we see them and when we see their activity, we can direct the police forces to their location. And even if they escape, we can follow them and make sure that police catch them.”
Over the past month, 11 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks, including a deadly assault last week on a Jerusalem synagogue that killed five people. Most of the violence has occurred in Jerusalem, along with deadly attacks in Tel Aviv and the West Bank.
The helium-filled balloons were successfully used in Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip last summer. While various types of surveillance blimps have been used in the Jerusalem area for years, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a strategic decision was recently made to increase their use as part of a broader effort to use the latest technologies.