Israel closes Gaza border crossing after spike in arson balloon attacks

Israel closes Gaza border crossing after spike in arson balloon attacks

Only fuel, food and humanitarian goods will be allowed into the Gaza Strip, says Israeli military as Kerem Shalom shut ‘until further notice’

Palestinians prepare a flammable object to be flown toward Israel, near the Israel-Gaza border, in the eastern part of the Gaza Strip, August 10, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinians prepare a flammable object to be flown toward Israel, near the Israel-Gaza border, in the eastern part of the Gaza Strip, August 10, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Following waves of explosive balloons launched from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory over the last few days, Israel will shut the Gaza Strip’s Kerem Shalom commercial crossing beginning Tuesday morning “until further notice,” the Israeli military liaison to the Palestinians announced.

“The decision was made following security deliberations and in light of repeated terror attacks committed by terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip against Israeli citizens, which is a violation of the Israeli sovereignty,” the Coordinator of Government Activity in the Territories (COGAT) said in a statement late Monday.

Fuel and humanitarian aid, including food, would continue to be allowed into the Strip, COGAT said.

More than a dozen blazes were reported in and around Israeli communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip on Monday as incendiary balloon attacks from the Strip continued to increase. Mayors of communities near the Palestinian enclave demanded action against the fire-causing threat.

No injuries were reported, but 400 dunams of land in the Be’eri nature reserve was burned, Channel 12 news reported Monday night.

A fire that was sparked outside Kibbutz Erez in southern Israel, apparently by a balloon-borne incendiary device launched from the Gaza Strip, on August 10, 2020. (Sha’ar Hanegev Region)

One fire was sparked inside a community in the Eshkol region, but it was quickly extinguished, a regional spokesperson said. Firefighters were working to get a number of other fires in Eshkol under control to prevent them from spreading. There was no immediate threat to the communities in the region, the Eshkol official said.

Meanwhile, Gaza’s Hamas terrorist rulers fired rockets into the sea, after repeated exchanges of fire with Israel in recent days, Palestinian security sources and eyewitnesses said. At least eight rockets were seen in the sky, heading toward the Mediterranean Sea, said AFP journalists in the coastal strip.

Throughout the day, terrorists in Gaza launched balloon-borne explosive and incendiary devices into Israel, causing mid-air blasts and a number of fires in the surrounding regions, according to Israeli officials.

The rockets were a “message” to Israel to let it know that armed groups in Gaza will not “remain silent” in the face of an Israeli blockade and “aggression,” a source close to Hamas told AFP.

The closure of Kerem Shalom was likely to exacerbate the already dire economic situation in the Strip.

Gaza residents, who already suffer economically due a blockade imposed on the Strip by Israel and Egypt, have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment, always high, is now over sixty percent. 35.5% of employed Gazans work in the public sector, which has seen reduced and delayed wages due to the Palestinian Authority’s fiscal crisis.

A Palestinian worker checks a truck carrying United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) aid supplies that arrived through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel to the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah on May 12, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Israel imposed the blockade after  Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority in 2007, in a bid to prevent the terror group from bringing in weapons and material used to contruct fortifications and attack tunnels.

Promised Qatari aid, meanwhile, has been delayed numerous times, leaving the Strip – always in a precarious situation – in a dangerous spot.

Palestinian reports indicated that construction materials would be particularly affected by the closure. According to the United Nations, about 48 percent of the truckloads that entered through Kerem Shalom carried construction materials, by far the largest category of imports.

Hamas spokesperson Abdel Latif al-Qanua condemned the new restrictions.

“It is our people’s right to live a valuable and dignified life on our land, and to fight to raise the unjust siege which has been imposed for 14 years,” al-Qanua said.

A bird flies in front of smoke trails from test rockets fired by the Palestinian terror group Hamas, which currently controls the Gaza Strip, as part of military drills, in a photograph taken in Gaza City, on August 10, 2020 . (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

“All methods of pressure and threat will have no impact against the will to end the siege,” al-Qanua said.

Tensions along the Gaza border have risen over the past week, reportedly due to delays in the implementation of an ongoing ceasefire agreement between the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group and the Israeli government.

An association of Israeli mayors in towns around the Gaza Strip called for “a permanent security response” to ensure a return to calm in their area.

“Our daily lives are again and again interrupted, by ear-ringing explosions, by fires, but rocket launches on a constant and ongoing basis. All of this, during a medical and economic crisis, which has also left its marks on our region,” the mayors wrote in a statement.

This is far from the first time that Israel has restricted or closed Kerem Shalom due to violent activity emanating from the Gaza Strip. In March 2019 Israel closed the crossing for days at a time due to rocket fire.

While the Israeli government has said that it holds Hamas responsible for any and all violence from the Gaza Strip, rights groups call Israel’s practice of shutting border crossings with Gaza a form of collective punishment.

“The decision to stop the entry of goods into the Gaza Strip has nothing to do with the security of Israeli residents. Its is an illegal act. The launching of balloons, which deliberately endangers population centers, is a violation of international law. But in its response, Israel is playing cynically with living conditions in the Gaza Strip in a manner that constitutes collective, inappropriate and cruel punishment,” Gisha, an organization which advocates for Palestinian freedom of movement, said in response.

Kerem Shalom is the only commercial crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Two other crossings – Sufa and Nahal Oz – were both closed by Israel after Hamas  took over the Gaza Strip in 2007.

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