Israel shrinks Gaza fishing zone in response to fires set by incendiary balloons


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Israel Defense Forces cut down the fishing zone for fishermen off the coast of the Gaza Strip in response to incendiary balloons sent from Gaza that sparked several fires in southern Israel.

The move appears to be retaliation for attacks by Gaza residents that causes at least six blazes in Israeli Gaza-border communities on Wednesday. Israel’s Fire and Rescue Services reported 11 fires in the region as Israel endures a heat wave.

Wednesday night’s decision, restricting the Gaza fishing zone to 10 nautical miles, came a day after the zone had been increased to 15 nautical miles. The zone has been as small as six nautical miles, and before the second intifada began in 2000 it was as large as 28 nautical miles.

The allowed fishing zone was reduced to six nautical miles in April after Islamic Jihad fired a missile on Israel.

Israel uses the zone as a carrot and stick in its dealing with Hamas and other terrorist organization in Gaza. Tuesday’s increase reportedly honored an unofficial ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza. But the balloons carrying fire bombs could be a violation of that deal. Israel has denied that there is such a cease-fire in place.

All of the fires were under control by late Wednesday night.

An extreme heat wave has blanketed Israel for several days. Temperatures on Wednesday hovered in the high 90s and are forecasted to climb as high as 110 to 115 Fahrenheit by Friday throughout most of the Jewish state. The hot and dry weather has led to fears of widespread fires.

The weather led to the curtailment Wednesday night of traditional bonfires marking the minor festival of Lag B’Omer.

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