Israel further tightened its blockade of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, halting all fuel deliveries into the Palestinian enclave in response to continuing launches of airborne firebombs into Israeli territory.
Fuel deliveries at the border crossing known as Kerem Shalom will be suspended until Sunday, the Israeli defense ministry said. The port will remain open for shipments of food and medicine on a case-by-case basis.
“In light of the continued terror efforts of Hamas, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has decided, after consulting with the chief of (military) staff, to close Kerem Shalom for the passage of fuel and gas until Sunday,” the ministry said in a statement, according to Agence France-Presse.
Palestinian militants have launched hundreds of kites and balloons rigged with incendiary devices into Israel over the past three months as part of ongoing demonstrations along the Israel-Gaza border. The firebombs have started at least 700 fires and burned thousands of acres of forests and cropland, according to Israel’s fire service.
Hamas, the Islamist group that governs Gaza, says the kites and balloons are part of legitimate resistance to the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade. It denounced the blockade as a “crime against humanity” and warned of “dangerous consequences” from the suspension of fuel deliveries at Kerem Shalom.
“The Israeli occupation’s closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing and depriving Gaza from the most simple necessities of life is a crime against humanity that will be added to its list of crimes at the expense of the Palestinian people including those living in the Strip,” Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement, according to the Times of Israel.
The additional restrictions come on the heels of the heaviest exchange of fire between Hamas militants and Israeli forces since a 2014 war in Gaza. Israel carried out airstrikes on more than 40 targets it said belonged to militants in Gaza on Saturday, killing two Palestinian teenagers. (RELATED: Israel Trades Fire With Palestinian Militants As Gaza Protests Rage On)
The same day, Palestinian fighters launched more than 100 rockets from Gaza into Israeli territory, setting off air raid sirens and forcing civilians into bomb shelters. Four Israelis were injured when a rocket struck a house in the city of Sderot, which sits about a mile from the Israel-Gaza border.
Saturday’s exchange of fire followed a familiar pattern of violence that has set in over the past several months. In at least two previous episodes since late May, Israeli forces have carried out airstrikes in Gaza in response to a barrage of rocket and mortar fire by Palestinian militants.
The battles have intensified as protests along the Israel-Gaza border have stretched into a fourth month. Hamas is organizing the weekly demonstrations to draw attention to the blockade of Gaza, which has caused widespread economic hardship in the territory.
Israel says Hamas is using the protests as a pretext to carry out attacks against Israeli troops and civilians, and it has vowed to continue responding to the kite and balloon launches with airstrikes. An Israeli warplane on Tuesday struck a group of Palestinian militants who were launching incendiary balloons into Israeli territory.
“We are in the midst of a campaign, there’s an exchange of blows and I can tell you the Israel Defense Forces are ready for any scenario,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday, according to the newspaper Haaretz.
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