Israel will close the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Gaza in protest of Palestinian kite-launchers, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in the Knesset yesterday.
The move will see the blockade tightened, blocking commercial supplies that regularly pass through the crossing to the besieged Strip, although some humanitarian aid will reportedly be allowed through.
“In agreement with the defence minister, we will act with a heavy hand against the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu said to the applause of party members, adding that the closure will also be accompanied by other measures.
Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman also told MKs that Israel would not hesitate to act further should the situation escalate.
“We are not looking for a confrontation or for a military venture but in the way Hamas operates, the [situation] deteriorates and [Hamas] is liable to pay the full price, a much heavier price than Operation Protective Edge,” Lieberman added, referring to the 2014 assault on Gaza that left over 2,250 Palestinians dead.
Under the new rules, Gaza fishermen will also be limited to fishing just nine kilometres out to sea, rather than the 14 kilometres previously permitted.
The closure of the crossing has been slammed by Hamas as “a new crime against humanity” that breaks international law. Palestine’s Islamic Jihad movement also deemed the announcement a “declaration of war”, but stated that this would not break the resolve of the Palestinian people.
Israel has accused kites flying from Gaza during the recent Great March of Return of sparking wildfires in southern Israel. Gazans were met with Israeli live fire and tear gas dropped from unmanned drones, but the Israeli military struggled to tackle the incendiary balloons set off by some of the demonstrators, as they protested the strangling blockade now in its eleventh year.
Tel Aviv has escalated its response to kite-launchers in recent weeks, launching air strikes against the Strip and threatening a greater operation should the activity not cease. Israeli authorities have also vowed to limit the supply of helium to Gaza, a move that will restrict vital supplies to hospitals.
The government has ordered the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank to pay some $1.4 million in compensation for the damage reportedly caused by the kites. Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan also suggested last month that Palestinians who launch kites from Gaza should be assassinated, adding that the fires would only increase military resistance.