Israel has tightened its blockade of the Gaza Strip today, and prevented fuel deliveries through its only goods crossing with the Palestinian enclave after scores of kites carried firebombs across the border to burn Israeli farmland. This enhanced measure comes a week after the Israeli government announced the closure of the crossing.
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. They announced only items deemed "humanitarian" by Israeli authorities will be allowed to enter Gaza including food, hygiene and medical supplies, fuel, animal feed and livestock. Since then, 55 percent of goods can no longer enter Gaza under the new restrictions, exacerbating already dire humanitarian conditions.
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".
The UN and Gisha, the Legal Centre for Freedom of Movement, called Israel's latest measure an act of "collective punishment". "There is no other way of describing this measure other than collective punishment. Pretending to know what Gaza needs and trying to 'manage the situation' harkens back to earlier iterations of the closure, is morally depraved and constitutes a willful act of hubris in a volatile situation," a spokesperson from Gisha said.
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 millions of shekels (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 Saturday, 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. (With Agency inputs)