Liberman orders narrowing of Gaza fishing zone, citing border violence
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Liberman orders narrowing of Gaza fishing zone, citing border violence

Gaza boats will be allowed only six nautical miles off coast instead of previous nine; IDF forces disarm explosives hurled during Friday riots

Illustrative: Activists escort a boat carrying Palestinians injured during clashes along the Gaza security fence as it tries to break through Israel's naval blockade from the Gaza City harbor on July 10, 2018 . (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Illustrative: Activists escort a boat carrying Palestinians injured during clashes along the Gaza security fence as it tries to break through Israel's naval blockade from the Gaza City harbor on July 10, 2018 . (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Saturday ordered Gaza’s fishing zones constrained due to the escalation of border violence along the southern frontier.

The fishing zone will be curtailed from nine to six nautical miles, the Defense Ministry said, following deliberations between Liberman and defense officials.

“The defense minister’s decision was made following the violent rioting over the weekend near the fence and attempts to harm IDF forces and launch confrontational flotillas” at the maritime border, the ministry said.

Earlier the navy stopped a Palestinian boat off the Gaza coast that had sailed outside permitted fishing waters. Troops detained its two occupants.

Also Saturday the IDF conducted controlled detonations of explosive devices hurled at army troops during the previous day’s violent protests.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks at a press conference on July 19, 2018. (Flash90)

Three Palestinians, including a 14-year-old boy, were reported killed and dozens injured as some 20,000 Palestinians took part in violent clashes Friday along the Gaza border, throwing hand grenades and trying to breach the barrier.

During the riots, the army said Israeli aircraft struck two Hamas positions in the northern Gaza Strip after Palestinians threw grenades and explosive devices at Israeli troops.

The large-scale protests came as Israel signaled it was rapidly losing patience and willing to go to war to stop the violence, while Gaza’s Hamas rulers vowed to push on with the confrontations.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said 124 Palestinians were injured and two killed in the clashes. Fares Hafez al-Sersawi, 14; 24-year-old Mahmud Akram Mohammed Abu Samane; and Hussein al-Raqab, 28, died after being shot, the ministry said.

It said more than 20 people had been hit by live fire.

Friday’s clashes took place at a number of locations along the border, according to the Israel Defense Forces, and included the throwing of grenades and explosives, burning of tires, and hurling of stones toward the security fence and Israeli soldiers.

The army said soldiers were responding with riot dispersal means and live fire in accordance with IDF regulations.

A protester falls down on barbed fence as he runs for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli troops while others burn tires near the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel during a protest east of Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot toured the border area on Friday, where he met with top commanders and reviewed the security situation.

“The chief of staff expressed his great admiration for the soldiers and commanders who work every day against the security challenges in the Gaza Strip and enable residents [of the south] to live their lives securely,” the army said in a statement.

On Thursday, the military announced the deployment of additional troops and Iron Dome air defense batteries to the Gaza area and Liberman instructed it to maintain “maximum preparedness for any scenario.”

Earlier Friday, Liberman indicated that Israel had been holding back on a harsh response to the near-nightly riots on the border in order to prevent an all-out conflict during the period of the Jewish High Holidays, beginning with Rosh Hashanah on September 9 and ending with Simchat Torah on October 1.

“We’ve been through the High Holidays exactly as we planned, without a flare-up and by exacting a heavy price on the rioters along the Gaza border,” Liberman wrote on Twitter, referring to the people killed and injured by IDF troops during the clashes.

“The holidays are over, and I say to the heads of Hamas: ‘Take that into account,’” the defense minister wrote.

A Palestinian protester throws a stone towards Israeli forces during clashes east of Gaza city, along the Gaza-Israel border in the Gaza Strip on October 5, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Anas BABA)

Later, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also warned Israel would respond firmly to any violence coming from Gaza.

“The prime minister clarified Israel will act decisively toward Gaza over any action against the residents of the south or Israel,” his office said in a statement after a meeting with the German foreign minister.

Hamas dismissed Liberman’s suggestion of Israel’s readiness for war, calling his tweet “empty words” and vowing the clashes would “intensify.”

Border riots, dubbed the “Great March of Return,” have increased dramatically in recent weeks. They began as weekly events from late March through the summer, but appeared to slow as Hamas entered indirect talks with Israel aimed at a ceasefire.

As these talks have stalled, Hamas has increased the pace of rioting and demonstrations against Israel, and created new units tasked with sustaining tensions along the border fence including during nighttime and early morning hours.

In an interview with the Yedioth Ahronoth daily published Thursday, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, said that while he didn’t want any more wars, an “eruption is inevitable” given the current humanitarian conditions in the Strip — conditions that Israel and others in the world blame explicitly on Hamas’s poor governance of the coastal enclave.

Both Israel and Egypt enforce a number of restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza. Israel says the blockade is necessary to keep Hamas and other terror groups in the Strip from arming or building military infrastructure.

A Palestinian throws a stone toward Israeli troops during clashes east of Gaza City, along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, on October 5, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza has worsened steadily, and Hamas’s reconciliation talks with the Palestinian Authority have broken down.

The clashes along the border, which Israel maintains are being directed by Hamas, have included regular rock and Molotov cocktail attacks on troops, as well as shooting and IED attacks aimed at IDF soldiers, and attempts to breach the border fence.

Gazans have also launched incendiary kites and balloons into Israel, sparking fires that have destroyed forests, burned crops, and killed livestock. Thousands of acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials. Some balloons have carried improvised explosive devices.

At least 140 Palestinians have been killed during the protests since late March, according to AP figures. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the fatalities were its members.

Judah Ari Gross and agencies contributed to this report.

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