A group of 12 leading human rights organizations urged Israel on Tuesday to remove the restrictions it has placed on Gaza’s main goods crossing, in response to ongoing airborne arson attacks emanating from the Hamas-run coastal enclave.
The organizations said Israel’s decision to allow only medicine and basic food products through the Kerem Shalom crossing amounted to an “immoral act of collective punishment.”
The statement’s signatories included Gisha, Adalah, Amnesty International Israel, Ir Amim, MachsomWatch, Physicians for Human Rights Israel, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Yesh Din.
While the groups acknowledged that the damage incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza has caused Israeli fields and farmland was “severe,” they said the Israeli response “cannot be to deliberately harm innocent civilians.”
They called the measure “dangerous” and “irresponsible,” noting that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s decision Monday to halt fuel transfer into the Strip “will stop generators used to power homes, businesses, and other essential services,” exacerbating the severe humanitarian crisis there.
“Closing Gaza’s major crossing for movement of goods, the main lifeline for almost two million people, half of whom are children, constitutes an illegal and immoral act of collective punishment,” they said.
Liberman’s office announced on Monday that between Tuesday and Sunday, no fuel will enter Gaza through Kerem Shalom. The entry of food and medicine will continue, but will require explicit permission from Israel. Additionally, Gaza fishermen will only be allowed to venture three kilometers (1.8 miles) into the Mediterranean Sea, down from the current six kilometers (3.7 miles).
Those restrictions were added to those imposed by Israel last week, when it halted exports of Gazan produce and stopped most goods from going into the Strip. The military said the closure would continue as long as Palestinians persist in launching incendiary kites and balloons into Israel.
Liberman’s office said the restrictions were toughened due to “continued terror attempts” by Hamas, which is allowing, encouraging and participating in flying incendiary devices and bombs into Israel with balloons and kites.
Hamas warned Israel of “dangerous consequences” for the new fresh restrictions, calling them “a crime against humanity.”
The European Union also criticized the restrictions, saying it “expects Israel to reverse these decisions” which risked “further aggravating the already dire economic situation in Gaza.”
Kerem Shalom is the only cargo crossing between Gaza and Israel. The Strip has been subject to a strict blockade for the past 11 years that Israel says is necessary to prevent terrorist groups from bringing weapons into the Strip. Egypt also tightly controls the Rafah border crossing into the Sinai.
On Tuesday, incendiary balloons from Gaza landed in a preschool yard in an Israeli community, near the border as children played outside, and in an elementary school closed for summer vacation in another community. There were no injuries.
Recent months have seen daily arson attacks from Gaza with incendiary kites and balloons that have burned thousands of acres of Israeli forests, farmland and brush. Some 2,500 acres of nature reserves and national parks have been destroyed.
Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.