Israel restricts Gaza fishing zone as cross-border attacks persist

Permitted area to be limited to 10 nautical miles, from 15, until further notice amid ongoing rocket fire, airborne explosive attacks

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Palestinian fishermen take to the Mediterranean Sea in Gaza City on June 18, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Palestinian fishermen take to the Mediterranean Sea in Gaza City on June 18, 2019. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The Israeli military on Wednesday announced it was reducing the size of the Gaza fishing zone by a third in light of continued rocket fire and airborne explosive attacks from the Strip.

“Following security consultations, it has been decided today (Wednesday), to restrict the fishing zone of the Gaza Strip from 15 nautical miles to 10 nautical miles, starting from 4 p.m. until further notice,” the Israeli military liaison to the Palestinians said in a statement.

“The decision was made following the continuity of rocket fire and the launching of explosive balloons from the Gaza Strip to the territory of the State of Israel,” said the Defense Ministry body, known formally as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

In its statement, COGAT said Israel holds the Hamas terror group — the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip — responsible for the attacks.

Israel routinely restricts the Gaza fishing zone in response to terrorist activities in the Strip, which some human rights groups decry as a form of collective punishment.

Suspected explosive device connected to a bunch of inflated latex gloves flown from Gaza, February 5, 2020 (Israel Police)

The military most recently imposed limits on the fishing area in December following a rocket attack from the Strip.

The announcement came following a week of near-daily rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza and dozens of balloon-borne explosive devices being launched from the Strip into southern Israel, including on Wednesday. A total of 13 rockets have been fired into Israel in the past week, according to the IDF.

In one attack last week, a three-week-old Israeli infant was seriously injured after she was accidentally dropped while her mother ran into a bomb shelter.

In response to these attacks, all of which have struck open fields in southern Israel, the Israel Defense Forces has conducted airstrikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli defense officials believe that Hamas is either carrying out or allowing these attacks to be carried out in order to increase pressure on Israel in a bid to extract greater concessions in ongoing ceasefire negotiations.

At least three rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel shortly after midnight, setting off rocket sirens in southern Israeli communities.

Two people were lightly injured while rushing for bomb shelters, Army Radio reported. There were no reports of the Iron Dome missile defense system being activated, apparently as the projectiles were heading toward unpopulated areas.

In response, the IDF carried out airstrikes in Gaza in the predawn hours, striking several targets near Khan Younis in southern Gaza, according to Palestinian media reports.

Several balloon-borne explosive devices were also flown into southern Israel throughout the day on Wednesdays.

In a video posted to social media, staff at a kindergarten in the south of the country rushed children to safety on Wednesday as they spotted a suspected bomb-carrying balloon from the Gaza Strip floating toward their play area.

The footage, which was reportedly filmed in an unnamed community near the city of Kiryat Gat, shows an airborne object similar to the kind that terrorists have recently been using to carry explosives and incendiary devices across the border from Gaza.

Staff can be heard desperately urging the children, some of whom sound to be in tears, to “quickly run inside” as the balloon loomed overheard.

There were no injuries reported in the incident.

Also Wednesday, a suspected explosive device connected to a bunch of inflated latex gloves, apparently launched from Gaza, landed in a field near the city of Sderot, police said. Police sappers were called to the scene to remove the device.

Other balloon-borne devices were also found in the Eshkol and Merhavim regions.

On Monday, at least nine balloons suspected of carrying explosives and incendiary devices from the Gaza Strip were found in Israeli communities near the restive frontier.

Tensions between Israel and Gaza have been steadily rising over the past two weeks, after several months of relative calm. Fears have mounted in recent days of an escalation of violence in Gaza and the West Bank following the release last week of a US peace plan that is seen as heavily favoring Israel.

Late last month a senior Hamas official said the recent string of balloons was a signal to Israel to accelerate unofficial “understandings” meant to ease the blockade on the territory ruled by the terror group.

Hamas is a terror group committed to Israel’s destruction, and it has ruled Gaza since taking over the territory from the Palestinian Authority in a bloody coup in 2007. It has since fired tens of thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians and fought three wars with Israel.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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