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Gaza blockade: Israel shuts goods crossings to pressure Hamas

Israeli officials blame Hamas for the damages caused by incendiary kites flown by Palestinian protesters
Israeli officials say that incendiary kites, used by Palestinian demonstrators as a tool of resistance, have burned 7,000 acres of land (AFP)

Israel announced on Monday it was shutting down the Gaza Strip’s only commercial crossing and reducing its designated fishing zone, tightening the siege in the Palestinian enclave more than 100 days into large-scale demonstrations.

“We will crack down immediately on the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip. In a significant move, we will today shut down the Kerem Shalom (border) crossing,” Reuters quoted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying in broadcast remarks to his parliamentary faction. “There will be additional steps. I am not detailing them.”

The Israeli army said in a statement that Kerem Shalom would remain open for the transfer of approved humanitarian goods.

Arabic-language spokesman for the Israeli army, Avichay Adraee, took to social media to reveal that the measures also included reducing Gaza’s designated fishing zone from nine to six nautical miles off the coast.

Translation: In addition (to closing the crossing), the extension of the Gaza Strip fishing zone to nine miles for the fishing season will expire, returning today to six miles.

Adraee also went on to threaten Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, with further sanctions.

Translation: If Hamas continues in this direction, these decisions will continue and will intensify. The Hamas terrorist organisation is responsible for what is happening inside the Gaza Strip and coming out of it. Hamas is dragging the population of Gaza into the abyss, and the Israeli Defence Forces will continue to work to preserve Israel's security interests.

In a written statement, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum denounced the move, calling it "a new crime against humanity added to the black record of the Israeli occupation against our Palestinian people and our people in the Gaza Strip".

"International and regional silence for the crime of the suffocating siege imposed on the Gaza Strip for (nearly) 12 years has encouraged the Israeli enemy to carry on with its criminal measures that violate human rights and international laws," Barhum added. "Therefore, Hamas calls on the international community to act immediately and prevent this crime and its dangerous consequences."

Israeli officials have accused Hamas of organising the Great March of Return - a mass protest that began on 30 March, calling for an end to the 11-year Israeli-led blockade of Gaza and for Palestinian refugees’ right of return to the lands their families fled during the establishment of the state of Israel.

March organisers have rejected such allegations, stating that while Hamas has participated in the demonstrations like other Palestinian political factions, the group was not playing a leading role in the protests.

However, Israeli officials have been outraged by some demonstrators’ use of incendiary kites and balloons, which they fly over the separation fence into Israel, claiming that the kites have sparked fires damaging some 7,000 acres of farmlands and forests.

But Palestinians view the cheap, flying devices to be a tool of resistance against the well-armed Israeli forces stationed behind the fence that have killed at least 136 Palestinians since the beginning of the March of Return. No Israeli casualties have been recorded.

Fishing zone reduced again

Only a day earlier, Qatari envoy Mohammed al-Emadi, who has been working behind the scenes to ease tensions in Gaza, suggested in an interview that Palestinians would stop protests and sending incendiary kites if Israel were to ease the siege and allow 5,000 Palestinians from Gaza to obtain work permits for Israel.

Hamas won 2006 legislative elections and effectively booted the Palestinian Authority (PA) from power in Gaza in the wake of an armed conflict with Fatah, the leading party of the PA, after the latter rejected the election results.

Following the Palestinian power struggle, Israel imposed a stringent siege on Gaza in 2007 - supported by Egypt under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi - restricting the movement of people and civilians in and out of the coastal territory, and installing land and sea "buffer zones" in Gaza.

While the 1993 Oslo Accords set the designated fishing zone in Gaza at 20 nautical miles off the coast, Palestinian fishermen have seen the zone reduced between nine to three nautical miles under the siege.

The blockade, coupled with three devastating wars since 2009, has impacted Palestinians’ livelihoods in Gaza - as high unemployment, barely existent power and water-treatment infrastructure, loss of agricultural lands and war-related trauma led the UN to warn in 2015 that Gaza would become “unliveable” by 2020.

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