GAZA CITY • Israel’s army launched new airstrikes yesterday against Hamas positions in Gaza and closed the fishing zone around the Palestinian enclave in response to rockets and firebombs sent into Israeli territory.
The measures came after a week of heightened tensions, including clashes on Saturday evening along the Gaza-Israeli border, the army said.
Dozens of Palestinian “rioters burned tyres, hurled explosive devices and grenades towards the security fence and attempted to approach it,” the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said in a statement.
Long-simmering Palestinian anger has flared further since Israel and the United Arab Emirates last Thursday agreed to normalise relations, a move Palestinians saw as a betrayal of their cause by the Gulf country.
Over the past week Israeli forces have carried out repeated night-time strikes on targets linked to the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
The army said they were carried out in response to makeshift firebombs attached to balloons and kites which have been sent into southern Israel, causing thousands of fires on Israeli farms and communities.
There were 19 such Palestinian attacks on Saturday alone, according to Israeli rescue services.
In response, “IDF fighter jets and aircraft struck a number of Hamas military targets in the Gaza Strip,” the army said, adding that among the targets hit were a Hamas “military compound and underground infrastructure”.
Early yesterday, the IDF said two more rockets had been fired into Israel from Gaza and intercepted by its Iron Dome defence system.
“In response, our Air Force just struck Hamas terror targets in Gaza, including a military compound used to store rocket ammunition,” it said.
Following the rocket and incendiary balloon attacks earlier this week, Israel last Wednesday slashed Gaza’s permitted coastal fishing zone from 15 nautical miles (27.8km) to eight, a punitive move often used by the Jewish state in response to Gaza unrest.
Following Saturday’s clashes and rocket-fire, Israel’s military decided “to entirely shut down the fishing zone of the Gaza Strip, immediately and until further notice, starting yesterday morning,” a military statement said.
Israel has also closed its Kerem Shalom goods crossing with the Gaza Strip.
Despite a truce last year backed by the United Nations, Egypt and Qatar, the two sides clash sporadically with rockets, mortar fire or incendiary balloons.
The Gaza Strip has a population of two million, more than half of whom live in poverty, according to the World Bank.
The IDF said Hamas “is responsible for all events transpiring in the Gaza Strip and emanating from it, and will bear the consequences for terror activity against Israeli civilians”. — AFP