Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon approved, Thursday, the reduction of the fishing limits off the coast of Gaza from six miles to three miles in response to Thursday morning’s rocket fire from Gaza at southern Israeli communities. They also approved the closing of the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing into the Hamas-ruled area.
The ceasefire prohibited rockets and attacks from Gaza and extended the fishing limit to six mile limit from three miles. Israel also agreed to stop shooting at Gaza farmers near the border, and to stop incursions into Gaza.
Both sides also agreed to continued talks to stabilize the ceasefire and reach agreement of other issues.
These talks broke down almost as soon as they began; Israel has continued to fire on Gaza farmers killing at least three and wounding others; fishing boats have been continually harassed, and there have been regular incursions inside Gaza by Israel, in spite of the fact that they are forbidden by the ceasefire.
On the other hand Gaza leaders have encouraged demonstrations on the West Bank and called for the capture of Israelis to exchange for their own persons being held prisoner by Israel.
The situation never did really calm down and now the firing of five rockets Thursday at Sderot to catch the attention of Obama, has brought an Israeli decision to tear up the ceasefire agreement altogether and return to the pre-Nov reality.
The new reality is a return to repetitive violent exchanges finally ending in an Israeli invasion of Gaza.
A statement issued by the Spokesperson’s Office of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said: “The decision returns the area’s status to that before last fall’s Pillar of Defense counter-terror operation in Gaza”.
Magles Shoura al-Mujahedeen, a hardline Islamist Salafi faction with a small presence in Gaza and the neighboring Egyptian Sinai, claimed responsibility for Thursday’s rockets on Sderot.
In an online statement, the group said it had struck during Obama’s visit to show up Israeli air defenses – a likely reference to Israel’s US-backed Iron Dome rocket shield.
Magles Shoura al-Muhajedeen and Hamas are both hostile to Israel. But the Salafis accuse Hamas of diluting Islamist doctrine by seeking accommodation with secular Palestinians.
Hamas has at times cracked down on the Salafis, seeing them as a threat to the stability of the impoverished Gaza Strip.
On Thursday the Hamas administration’s spokesman Taher al-Nono questioned whether rockets had really been fired from Gaza, seeing them as an Israeli invention to provide a pretext for ending the ceasefire and reaffirmed commitment to the “mutual calm agreement brokered by Cairo”.
Israel, which holds Hamas responsible for any violence emanating from the enclave, has retaliated by shutting the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing on the Gaza border and by again officially restricting the fishing zone to three miles.
The zone had been extended to 11 km (6 miles) as part of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that ended an eight-day conflict between Israel and Hamas in November. In spite of the official extension Israel had been refusing to let many Gaza fisherman go beyond the earlier 3 mile limit anyway. The extension to six miles was on paper only. Tensions Running High Between Israel and Gaza
“We have informed Cairo of this Israeli violation [of the agreement] and we are waiting to hear a clear position from Egyptian mediators on this,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, giving no indication that Hamas wanted to abandon the ceasefire arrangement.
An Egyptian official confirmed that the Hamas complaint had been received, saying Israel had complained separately about the rocket attack – previously one other rocket was fired since November.
The official said Cairo would contact both sides to “restore their commitment to the truce”. Israel said on Thursday its new Gaza restrictions would be in place until further notice