(July 18, 2018 / Israel Hayom) The Defense Ministry announced on Monday that it was temporarily suspending the delivery of petroleum fuels and natural gas to the Gaza Strip through the main cargo crossing linking Israel with the coastal enclave.
Last week, Israel imposed sanctions on Gaza over Hamas-backed arson terrorism and ongoing border riots, announcing the closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing to anything by humanitarian cases and aid deliveries.
Kerem Shalom is Gaza’s only cargo terminal. The coastal enclave has been under a maritime blockade since 2007, when Hamas ousted the Fatah government from Gaza in a military coup. Israel maintains that the blockade is vital to prevent Hamas from smuggling terrorists and weapons into Gaza.
A Defense Ministry statement said on Monday that the delivery of fuel and gas will be suspended until next Sunday, stressing that the move will not impact the deliveries of food and medical supplies.
The ministry also said it would reduce the fishing zone in southern Gaza to 3 nautical miles.
This is the second time Israel is scaling back the fishing area as part of the sanctions imposed on Gaza over arson terrorism, as last week it was cut from 9 to 6 nautical miles off the coast.
“Given Hamas’s relentless terrorism, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, after consultations with the chief of staff, has ordered suspending the deliveries of fuel and gas to the Gaza Strip until next Sunday. This will not affect the delivery of food and medicine into Gaza. It will also decided to reduce Gaza’s fishing zone from 6 nautical miles to 3 nautical miles,” a Defense Ministry statement said.
Hamas denounced the decision and threatened retaliation.
“Israel’s vengeful steps reflect the magnitude of the abuse imposed on the Gaza Strip. This move will have serious repercussions and Israel will be held accountable for it. Israel will never be able to affect the [Palestinian] national position on the continued struggle and resistance until the siege is lifted and our rights are secure,” the terrorist group that rules Gaza said in a statement.
Earlier Monday, a Hamas official said that “Israel’s sanctions reflect its intentions to exacerbate the siege on Gaza and commit more crimes against the people of Gaza. The world cannot remain silent anymore given the crimes against humanity that Israel is committing,” said Hamas.
‘We don’t want war’
The Defense Ministry’s announcement followed another day during which Palestinian kite terrorism sparked fires on the Israeli side of the border.
The terrorist arson campaign, launched in late April, has so far reduced more than 9,000 acres of forest and farmlands on the Israeli side of the border into ash, causing millions of dollars in damage. Experts say it will take at least 15 years to rehabilitate the vegetation and wildlife in the scorched areas.
Firefighters and volunteers battled several large fires in Gaza-vicinity communities on Monday, sparked by Palestinian incendiary kites sent over the security fence.
The Nature and Parks Authority said Monday that one of its foresters discovered a dead kestrel to which a small satchel containing flammable materials was attached.
The bird was found west of the border. The NPA said it was clear the bird did not accidentally get tangled in a kite or balloon string but was made to carry the material. It is believed the bird died after the satchel’s strings got entangled in the branches of a tree, and it was unable to break free.
Kestrels are small birds of prey that are common to Israel’s south. The NPA expressed concern that Gaza-based terrorists would begin using birds to carry incendiary materials and explosives into Israel.
Also on Monday, the Israel Defense Forces launched a wide-scale exercise simulating a ground operation in Gaza.
The military stressed the drill, dubbed “Gates of Steel,” has been on the books for over a year and was set as part of the IDF’s annual training program, saying its timing had nothing to do with the recent tensions on the Israel-Gaza Strip border.
As part of the exercise, the Southern Command’s 162nd Division will simulate a ground incursion of Gaza City.
Located at the heart of the coastal enclave, Gaza City is home to more than 500,000 people, making it the biggest city in the Strip.
The exercise will see Armored, Infantry, Engineering and Artillery corps troops drill various urban warfare scenarios using areas in Beersheva and several Negev Bedouin towns.
The drill is expected to simulate raids, chasing terrorists in open and tight urban areas, and dealing with underground threats, explosive and roadside bombs, as well as maintaining supply and humanitarian-aid routes, the evacuation of casualties and handling the local population.
“Will we go to war over incendiary kites and balloons? Probably not. Will we go to war over sporadic [rocket] fire? That is also unlikely,” a senior Southern Command official told Israel Hayom on Monday.
“We don’t want war. The desired situation is one where we don’t have to deal with incendiary kites, balloons and drones, but we gauge our response according to the situation on the ground. We will intensify our response gradually until it all stops,” he said.
Lieberman, who observed the drill on Tuesday, said “if we have to launch a military campaign, we will be able to defeat any enemy. The IDF know what to do and when to do. The IDF is ready for any mission.”