Israel shrinks Palestinian fishing zone in in payback for arson balloons
By Saud Abu Ramadan and Tamara Zieve
Gaza Strip/Tel Aviv - Israel on Wednesday restricted the permitted fishing zone off the Palestinian territory in response to incendiary balloons being launched into southern Israel from the Gaza Strip in recent days, burning swathes of land.
The zone has been reduced from 15 nautical miles (about 28 kilometres) to eight nautical miles (about 15 kilometres) until further notice, the responsible Cogat authority said.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz said the step was taken "in the face of ongoing terrorist activities from the Gaza Strip against Israeli citizens in recent days," the statement said.
The Islamist Hamas, which dominates the Gaza Strip, has claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Israeli broadcasters reported on Wednesday evening that the balloons sent from the Gaza Strip had caused 24 fires in the border area during the day.
The Israeli army said its fighter jets struck a number of Hamas targets early on Wednesday morning, in response to the balloon attacks.
A military compound, underground infrastructures and observation posts belonging to the radical Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza were struck, according to the army.
Palestinian eyewitnesses said that during the strikes, masked young men launched more incendiary balloons carrying explosives from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel and that an Israeli army reconnaissance drone fired a missile at them while they were doing so. The group of men survived, according to the eyewitnesses.
There had been a lull in what Israel describes as "balloon terrorism" since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but incidents have recently started up again.
Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union.
Israel on Tuesday closed its only border crossing for goods deliveries to the Gaza Strip, in reaction to the incendiary balloons.
Only essential humanitarian goods and fuel are now allowed to enter via the Kerem Shalom crossing.
Israel captured Gaza from Egypt in the 1967 Six-Day War, but unilaterally pulled out its army and evacuated its settlements in the Strip in 2005.
Israel, however, continues to control Gaza's borders, along with Egypt. Israel frequently closes crossings in response to rocket fire and violence along the border.