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July 9, 2018 9:39 am

Israel Announces Gaza Trade, Fishing Crackdown in Anti-Hamas Move

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A truck parks next to a security barrier inside the Kerem Shalom border crossing terminal between Israel and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Jan. 16, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Amir Cohen / File.

Israel said on Monday it was closing the Gaza Strip’s main commercial crossing and limiting the Palestinian coastal enclave’s fishing zone in a crackdown targeting Hamas Islamists whom it blames for border riots now in their fourth month.

“We will crack down immediately on the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip. In a significant move, we will today shut down the Kerem Shalom (border) crossing,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks to his parliament faction.

An Israeli military statement said Kerem Shalom would remain open for the transfer of specially approved humanitarian goods. It also said Gaza’s fishing zone would revert to 11 kilometers (6 miles) after it was temporarily expanded to 17 km (9 miles).

The military statement, and separate remarks by Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, linked the new measures to fires from incendiary kites and helium balloons that have been flown over the border since the riots began on March 30.

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Hamas officials could not immediately be reached for comment about Monday’s announcement by Israel.

Israel says it has lost 7,000 acres of forests and farmland to the kite- or balloon-set fires.

“We do not intend to continue absorbing and continuing with this situation,” Lieberman said in separate comments to his own parliamentary faction.

Israel, which last fought a Gaza war with Hamas in 2014, does not seek a new military flare-up, he said, “but the way Hamas is conducting itself — it is simply liable to spiral out of control, and it is liable to pay the whole price, a much, much heavier price than in Operation Protective Edge (2014 war).”

Israel briefly shut Kerem Shalom in May after dozens of Palestinian torched some of the terminal’s facilities on the Gaza side of the border.

On July 5, an American special envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, tweeted a picture of repair work at Kerem Shalom and accused Hamas in the “deplorable attack” on the terminal.

The administration of US President Donald Trump has been watching Gaza closely as it seeks to improve humanitarian conditions while sidelining Hamas, which is blacklisted as a terrorist group in the West.

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