JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israel closed its only goods crossing with the Gaza Strip on Monday over weeks of fires at farms caused by kites and balloons carrying firebombs from the Palestinian enclave.
The arson attacks have led to increasing alarm among Israeli residents and farmers near the blockaded Gaza Strip and demands that authorities take action.
“The crossing will be closed except for humanitarian equipment (including food and medicine) that will be approved on an individual basis,” Israel’s military said in a statement.
“No exports or marketing of goods will be carried out from the Gaza Strip.”
It added that the move was also due to “additional terror attempts”, referring to infiltrations and other incidents along the Gaza border.
The crossing, known as Kerem Shalom, is to remain closed until further notice.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he and Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman had agreed to be “heavy-handed with the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip – immediately”.
“There will be additional steps. I will not go into details,” he said in Parliament. Militant movement Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, called the closure a “crime against humanity”.
“Hamas calls on the international community to intervene immediately to prevent this crime,” Hamas spokesman Fawzy Barhoum said in a statement.
Israel also said it was ending a seasonal expansion of the fishing zone off Gaza, returning it to six nautical miles instead of nine.
Israeli authorities said the hundreds of arson kites and balloons sent over the border fence from Gaza have caused major damage to farms in the area.
A spokesman for Israel’s fire service said 750 fires have burned 2,600 hectares, putting the damage at millions of shekels (hundreds of thousands of dollars/euros).
A month ago, the government estimated the damage at five million shekels.
Gazans began launching the kites in April amid mass protests along the border calling for Palestinian refugees to be able to return to their former homes now inside Israel.
Palestinians see the strategy as a way of inflicting economic damage on Israel in protest without risking their lives by approaching the border fence.
Since protests and clashes broke out along the Gaza border on March 30, at least 139 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire.
The majority were involved in protests and clashes, but others were seeking to breach or damage the border fence.
No Israelis have been killed.
The closed crossing is the only one between Gaza and Israel for goods transport. A separate crossing, known as Erez, is for people.
Israel, which has fought three wars with Hamas since 2008, strictly controls both crossings.
Gaza’s only other border crossing is with Egypt. That crossing has been largely closed in recent years, but Egypt has opened it since mid-May.
United Nations officials and rights activists have repeatedly called for Israel to lift the blockade against Gaza, citing deteriorating humanitarian conditions.