Hamas condemns Israel closing strip’s main cargo crossing

Activists in Gaza vow to continue launching incendiary kites across border

Palestinian security forces  stand at the gate of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza. Photograph: AFP Photo

Palestinian security forces stand at the gate of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza. Photograph: AFP Photo

 

Activists in Gaza have vowed to continue launching incendiary kites across the border into southern Israel after Israel closed the main commercial crossing into Gaza in an effort to pressure Hamas into stopping the kites.

Hamas condemned Israel’s decision to close the Kerem Shalom terminal, the strip’s main cargo crossing, calling it “a crime against humanity”. Islamic Jihad, a rival Gaza militant group, called it a “declaration of war”.

Gaza business community representatives expressed concern that the economy would collapse if imports and exports through the Kerem Shalom crossing were halted.

The kites and balloons attached to petrol bombs or other flammable material, which were first launched 100 days ago during the March of Return protests by Palestinians on the Gaza border, have set off more than 750 fires in southern Israel, authorities say.

Although no one has been killed from the fires, more than 2,600 hectares of forest and farmland have gone up in flames, causing the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of euro of damage.

Daily fires

Despite the Israeli army’s announcement that a high-tech solution has been found to eliminate the threat – in the form of detection and interception drones – fields are still catching fire every day. Firefighters extinguished 33 blazes on Monday.

Large army forces are deployed across the Gaza border communities to prevent the fires spreading.

In announcing the closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing, through which hundreds of lorries pass daily, Israel said only specially approved humanitarian goods would be allowed into Gaza.

It also said Gaza’s fishing zone would revert to 11km after it was temporarily expanded to 17km.

Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s Israel-Palestine director, said the crossing closure was an act of “collective punishment” and he called on Israel to end “its long and cruel closure of Gaza”.

Announcing the closure, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned that there would be an escalation in Israeli measures if the “kite terrorism” continued. “We will weigh down heavier on Hamas’s leadership, effective immediately,” he said.

Defence minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel would no longer turn a blind eye. “We have no intention of living in a reality where our fields are being burned on a daily basis. Therefore, I suggest that first and foremost they come to their senses and stop with all the provocations on the fence and with the fires. This cannot continue,” he said.

Israel and Egypt have maintained an economic blockade on Gaza for 11 years although Cairo recently reopened its Rafah crossing with Gaza. The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, controlled by the Fatah, bitter enemies of Hamas, also imposed sanctions recently, resulting in a critical shortage of fuel.