Israel closes Gaza fishing zone after rash of balloon attacks

Move comes after incendiary objects from Strip spark 6 fires in south and bomb explodes over Israeli town

Palestinian fishermen clean a net after a night fishing trip, in the Gaza Seaport on April 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Palestinian fishermen clean a net after a night fishing trip, in the Gaza Seaport on April 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Israel announced Wednesday it would not allow Gazan fisherman access to the sea as it tightened its maritime blockade on the Palestinian enclave following a wave of arson attacks from the coastal enclave.

At least six fires in southern Israel were blamed on incendiary balloons launched from the Strip, and another balloon with a bomb attached to it exploded over an Israeli town. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

“Due to the continued fires and flying of incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip, it was decided this evening to impose a naval closure on the Strip until further notice,” the Defense Ministry’s liaison to the Palestinians said in a statement.

Israel in recent months has extended and reduced the permitted fishing zone around Gaza in response to the launching of incendiary devices from the Palestinian territory.

Firefighters work to extinguish a blaze in the Eshkol region of southern Israel that was sparked by a balloon-borne incendiary device from the Gaza Strip on May 22, 2019. (Eli Cohen/Fire and Rescue Services)

On Tuesday, it shrunk the zone, which can extend up to 15 nautical miles out, to six nautical miles, after seven fires were blamed on balloons from Gaza.

Gazans say the practice of restricting fishermen for balloon attacks is a form of collective punishment and only deepens the malaise in the Strip, where unemployment runs high.

“Fishing is very important to the livelihood of many people in Gaza. The fishermen use the income they make from selling fish to provide for their family members,” Saleh al-Ziq, a senior Gaza-based official in the Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Commission, told the Times of Israel last week. “Why is Israel punishing them for something they did not do?”

The arson attacks appear to be a violation of an unofficial ceasefire reached in early May between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers that ended two days of intense fighting between the Israeli military and Palestinian terror groups.

The balloon-borne bomb Wednesday was the first armed attack from the Strip since that round of fighting ended on May 5.

Also Wednesday, an unexploded rocket fired exploded in a cemetery in a town outside Ashdod. There were no reports of injuries.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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