Israel further tightens Gaza blockade over arson kites

Israel further tightens Gaza blockade over arson kites

JERUSALEM - Agence France-Presse
Israel further tightens Gaza blockade over arson kites

Israel further tightened its blockade of the Gaza Strip on July 17, preventing fuel deliveries through its only goods crossing with the Palestinian enclave after scores of kites carried firebombs across the border to burn Israeli farmland.

The defence ministry announced the move late Monday after saying last week it was closing the crossing to most deliveries, citing the kites and balloons that have for months carried firebombs into Israel from Gaza.

Fuel deliveries will be suspended until Sunday, the ministry said in a statement. The fishing zone enforced by Israel off the Gaza Strip will also be reduced from six nautical miles to three.

The goods crossing, known as Kerem Shalom, will remain open for food and medicine on a case-by-case basis.

"In light of the continued terror efforts of Hamas, Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman has decided, after consulting with the chief of (military) staff, to close Kerem Shalom for the passage of fuel and gas until Sunday," a statement said.

Islamist movement Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip and has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, denounced the move.

It had called the initial closing last week a "crime against humanity".

Palestinians in Gaza view the balloons and kites as legitimate resistance against Israel's more than decade-long blockade.

The closed crossing is the only one between Gaza and Israel for goods transport. A separate crossing, known as Erez, is for people.

Gaza's only other border crossing is with Egypt. That crossing has been largely closed in recent years, but Egypt has opened it since mid-May.

There were reports in the Israeli media of Egypt moving to close its crossing, but no confirmation.

Israeli authorities say the hundreds of arson kites and balloons sent over the border fence from Gaza have caused major damage to farms in the area.

A spokesman for Israel's fire service says around 750 fires have burned some 2,600 hectares, estimating the damage at hundreds of thousands of dollars or euros.

The tightening of the blockade comes after the heaviest exchange of fire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since a 2014 war on Saturday.

Israel carried out air strikes partially in response to the months of fires started by the kite firebombs, but also over continuing protests and clashes along the Gaza border.

Israel hit dozens of sites it said belonged to militants in the Gaza Strip on July 14, killing two Palestinian teenagers.

The same day, around 200 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel from the Hamas-run enclave and four Israelis were wounded when a rocket hit a house in the nearby Israeli city of Sderot.