The Hamas terror organization called Israel’s decision to close the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza a “crime against humanity” on Monday, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the move to respond to cross border violence.
“Netanyahu’s approval of additional measures to intensify the siege and prevent the entry of materials and goods to Gaza is a new crime against humanity,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.
Barhoum also accused the international community of being silent on “the crime of the suffocating siege on the Gaza Strip,” and called on it to take “immediate action” to end the blockade of the Strip.
Kerem Shalom, the only cargo crossing between Gaza and Israel, has been subject to a strict blockade for the past 11 years that Israel says is meant to prevent terrorist groups from bringing weapons into the Strip. Egypt also tightly controls the nearby Rafah border crossing into the Sinai.
The Islamic Jihad terror group said the step was a “new declaration of war” and vowed to respond.
“Once again, the government of Zionist terror announces a war on the Palestinian people by intensifying its oppressive siege that has multiplied the suffering of the Palestinian people for more than 11 years,” it said in a statement.
“We are coordinating with the factions and forces to evaluate all developments, including the occupation’s most recent measures, which we are dealing with as a new declaration of war on the Palestinian people,” Islamic Jihad added.
Earlier, Netanyahu said Israel will be undertaking measures to pressure Hamas, including closing Kerem Shalom, the main commercial passageway between Israel and the coastal enclave.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said he had instructed the military “to take a number of steps” to respond to “Hamas provocations” on the border.
“We are not looking for a confrontation or for a military venture, but in the way Hamas operates, the [situation] deteriorates and [Hamas] is liable to pay the full price, a much heavier price than Operation Protective Edge,” Liberman added, referring to the 2014 war with the terror organization.
Over the past three months, weekly clashes have taken place on the Gaza border, with Israel accusing Hamas of using the demonstrations as cover to carry out attacks and attempt to breach the security fence. The “March of Return” protests have also seen Palestinians fly airborne incendiary devices toward Israeli territory, sparking hundreds of fires in southern Israel and causing millions of shekels in estimated damages.
Immediately after Netanyahu spoke, the Israel Defense Forces confirmed that Kerem Shalom would be closed to all commercial goods into and out of the Gaza Strip.
The army said humanitarian aid, notably food and medicine, would still be allowed into Gaza, but would require special permission from the military liaison to the Palestinians, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon.
According to the IDF, the idea of closing Kerem Shalom was proposed by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and was approved by Netanyahu and Liberman.
The military said the closure would continue as long as Palestinians persist in launching incendiary kites and balloons into Israel.
The crossing has been closed a number of times in the past three months, after sustaining damage from fires set by Palestinian protesters.
In addition to closing the crossing, the army said it was prematurely ending the temporary extension to the permitted Gaza fishing zone, which had allowed fisherman to sail up to nine miles from the coast in order to take advantage of the summer fishing season.
Netanyahu’s announcement came after opposition leaders slammed him for what they described as a lackluster response to the border violence and kite fires.
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid told reporters earlier Monday that the prime minister was not doing enough to counter airborne arson attacks.
“For four years, he has done nothing regarding Gaza,” he said. “He knew, we all knew that there would be a new round of violence, but he did nothing. And now the round of violence has come. Our fields are being burned.”
He claimed that Netanyahu is waiting for the Trump administration to present its peace plan and has therefore not acted to stem the arson attacks from Gaza.
Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay told his faction meeting that in the four years that have passed since the 2014 Gaza war, Netanyahu has “failed to provide security to the people of Israel.”
“It’s clear that Netanyahu is no longer Mr. Security,” he said, referring to a nickname given to the prime minister. “Mr Security would have used the opportunity presented after the war to create a plan, to bring security, to provide us with some forward thinking. Instead: Nothing.”
Raoul Wootliff and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.