Hamas warns Israel will ‘bear the consequences’ of closing Gaza fishing zone

Terror group sources tell Lebanese outlet they oppose truce until Jerusalem unrest ends, threaten escalation if Palestinian elections delayed; security cabinet to convene at 3 p.m.

Fighters with the Izz-Al Din Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, in Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, on April 18, 2021. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
Fighters with the Izz-Al Din Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, in Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, on April 18, 2021. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

The Hamas terror group reacted furiously Monday to Israel’s full closure of the Gaza fishing zone in response to continuing rocket fire from the Strip, saying it would not accept the restrictions and that the policy would have serious repercussions.

Meanwhile, Israel’s security cabinet was set to convene at 3 p.m. to discuss steps in response to the escalation on the Gaza front as well as in East Jerusalem, where daily clashes have been taking place for the past week.

“Israel will bear the consequences,” Hamas said, according to the Ynet news site. “The closure of the Gaza Strip to fishermen is a blatant violation of their rights and constitutes a form of ongoing aggression against our people. Israel’s aggressive policy toward the Palestinian people will not break its steadfast spirit or weaken its fist or limit its determination.

“We will not accept restrictive measures and pressure on the Palestinian people, and Israel will bear the consequences of its aggressive behavior,” the terror group said.

Fishing is a significant source of revenue for the enclave but the size of the fishing zone has varied, with Israel raising and lowering the limit in recent years in a bid to pressure Hamas, the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip.

View of fishing boats at the port of Gaza City, June 13, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

It was set at 20 nautical miles by the Oslo peace accords in the 1990s before being reduced to six miles under the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas took over the Strip in a violent coup against the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority in 2007.

Additionally, Hamas sources were cited Monday by Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, widely considered a mouthpiece for the terror group Hezbollah, as saying that mediators from Egypt and the United Nations had been told Hamas opposes a truce with Israel for as long as Israeli policy against the Palestinians continued in Jerusalem, and that the potential cancellation of the May 22 Palestinian Authority elections would lead to an escalation of violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinians are seen as likely to delay their first national elections in 15 years due to Israel barring East Jerusalemites from voting where they reside. Israel views Jerusalem as its undivided capital and bars any PA activity there, while the Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state.

Palestinian terror groups have said that the rocket attacks over the past few days were in response to ongoing unrest in Jerusalem, where Arab residents have demonstrated for several days against Ramadan restrictions on congregating near Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate. Those restrictions were lifted by police on Sunday evening.

Israeli police and Palestinian men gather in a plaza outside of Jerusalem’s Old City, April 25, 2021 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Still, terrorists in the Strip launched five rockets toward southern Israel overnight, leading to Israel’s full closure of the Gaza fishing zone on Monday morning, banning Palestinians from sailing off the coast of the beleaguered enclave.

It was the third straight night of rocket attacks from Gaza, raising the specter of wider conflict in the restive region and between Israel and Palestinians in general.

The closure of the fishing zone appeared to be Israel’s sole retaliation to the rocket attacks, with the Israel Defense Forces refraining from conducting airstrikes on the Hamas terror group in the Strip — its usual response to rocket fire.

Sunday night’s launches began at 10:45 p.m., with a rocket that struck an open field near the Gaza border, without triggering alarms in populated areas. Roughly an hour later, a second rocket was fired toward southern Israel, but it failed to clear the border and landed inside the Strip, according to the army.

Rockets are fired toward the sea during a military drill by members of the Mujahideen Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian movement of the same name, along a beach off of Gaza City, on April 24, 2021. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Shortly after 3 a.m., terrorists in Gaza launched three rockets toward the town of Sderot and the surrounding area, triggering sirens in the communities. Two of these were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system; the third landed inside Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Four people, including a pregnant woman, were lightly wounded after falling while running to bomb shelters in that attack, medics said.

After the initial two attacks, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians — known formally as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) — announced that the military was restricting the Gaza fishing zone from its usual 15 nautical miles to nine nautical miles in light of the attacks.

However, after the third round of rocket launches in the predawn hours of Monday morning, the liaison Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian announced that beginning at 6 a.m. on Monday, Israel was closing off the Gaza coast to Palestinian fishermen entirely.

“This is because of the continued rocket fire from the Gaza Strip at Israeli territory during the night,” COGAT said in a statement.

“Hamas bears responsibility for everything that happens in or originates from the Gaza Strip against Israel, and it will bear the consequences for the violence directed against Israeli citizens,” Alian said.

The attacks on Sunday night and Monday morning came after Gazan terrorist groups launched over 40 rockets into Israel over the weekend. Also on Saturday, a number of Palestinian terror groups fired experimental rockets toward the Mediterranean Sea as a show of force.

Two Gaza factions, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and a branch of Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, claimed responsibility for the Friday-Saturday rocket fire. But Israel holds Hamas directly responsible for all fire from the enclave into Israeli territory, charging that it takes place with the terror group’s consent.

Men stand in front of a building baring traces of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, in the kibbutz Kissufim in southern Israel, adjacent to the Palestinian enclave, on April 24, 2021 (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The Hamas leadership earlier Sunday called East Jerusalemites to continue “mobilizing in the Old City and at its gates.” Hamas also said night patrols of Palestinians ought to be formed to protect East Jerusalem residents from assaults by Jewish extremists.

The widening circle of clashes has sparked concerns in Israel that the situation could escalate across the West Bank and Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Saturday for the military to “prepare for any scenario” with Gaza. Defense Minister Benny Gantz similarly said that the Israel Defense Forces “will do what is necessary so the calm is preserved,” following security consultations at defense headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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