Defense minister orders stop to Gaza fuel shipments over fire balloons
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Seven fires sparked in south by Gaza arson devices Wednesday

Defense minister orders stop to Gaza fuel shipments over fire balloons

Kerem Shalom crossing was partially reopened last week amid decline in border violence, but officials see new uptick in attacks

A truck loaded with supplies enters the  Gaza Strip from Israel through the Kerem Shalom Crossing on November 1, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
A truck loaded with supplies enters the Gaza Strip from Israel through the Kerem Shalom Crossing on November 1, 2017. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday ordered a freeze on all fuel and gas shipments into Gaza through the main goods crossing into the enclave, in response to continued incendiary balloon attacks and ongoing violence along the Israel-Gaza border.

The closure will continue until further notice, Israeli officials said on a day when firefighters battled seven separate brush fires near the Gaza border caused by incendiary balloons, according to fire and rescue officials.

In recent days, balloons have been found farther and farther from the Gaza Strip, landing as far away as the southern city of Beersheba.

The crossing has been closed to all but humanitarian aid deliveries in recent weeks, and was most recently reopened last week after officials noted a marked decline in the arson attacks from Gaza.

After he ordered an easing of the closure last week, Liberman’s office said the crossing will only be fully reopened once the violence along the border abates completely.

“The crossing’s activities will be reviewed in the coming days in accordance with a decrease in the terror activities and provocations. The return of the Kerem Shalom Crossing to full operation is dependent upon a total end to the balloon launches and clashes on the border,” his office said.

The statement added that “known Hamas members” were responsible for border riots as well as incendiary attacks.

The Hamas terror group rules the Gaza Strip.

Incendiary balloons being launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip in May 2018. (Screen capture: Quds news)

Israel closed the crossing on July 9, in response to ongoing violence from Gaza, mostly in the form of constant airborne arson attacks via kites and balloons bearing incendiary devices, regular riots along the security fence and occasional mortar and rocket fire.

Initially, only food, medical supplies and fuel were allowed through. On July 16, Israel further limited the transfer of goods through the crossing, halting the flow of gas and diesel fuel into the Strip, sparking concerns that the move could have a severe impact on the coastal enclave’s already-strained hospitals.

The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that the two countries say is meant to prevent Hamas from smuggling weapons into the Strip, as it has often attempted to do.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman visits the Kerem Shalom Crossing on July 22, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Over the past two weeks, Liberman and other Israeli officials have signaled that Israel is prepared to go to war in order to stop the day-to-day violence along the Gaza border.

“Is the State of Israel interested in a war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip? The answer is no. Are we deterred from [starting] a campaign in the Gaza Strip? Here too, the answer is no,” Liberman told the army’s top brass last week.

The defense minister claimed Israel had “done everything in order to prevent a war in the Gaza Strip.”

“Anything that happens going forward in the Gaza Strip is the sole responsibility of the Hamas leadership,” he said.

Since March 30, southern Israel has experienced many fires as a result of incendiary kites and balloons. Over 7,000 acres of land has been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.

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