Israel halts fuel shipments to Gaza over fire balloon launches

An Israeli worker from the Nature and Parks Authority attempts to extinguish a fire caused by a incendiary balloon launched by Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, on the Israeli side of the border between Israel and Gaza on August 12, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 13 August 2020

Israel halts fuel shipments to Gaza over fire balloon launches

  • Palestinians launched the balloons laden with incendiary material in a bid to pressure Israel to ease its blockade of the Strip and allow new economic projects
  • Israel had earlier retaliated by closing the Strip’s main commercial crossing and striking Hamas military facilities

TEL AVIV/GAZA: Israel on Thursday said it will stop shipments of fuel into Gaza in response to Palestinians in the enclave launching incendiary balloons that have torched tracts of farmland on the Israeli frontier.
Palestinians in Islamist Hamas-ruled Gaza in recent days have launched dozens of helium balloons laden with incendiary material in a bid to pressure Israel to ease its blockade of the Strip and allow new economic projects.
Israel, which cites security threats from Hamas for its land and naval blockade, had earlier retaliated by closing the Strip’s main commercial crossing and striking Hamas military facilities with warplanes, attack helicopters and tanks.
Escalating the measures on Thursday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered a halt to fuel imports into Gaza “in light of the continued launching of incendiary balloons from the Strip” toward Israel, the defense ministry said in a statement.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called the measure a “grave act of aggression” that “aims to worsen the crisis of our people in the blockaded Strip.” The Mediterranean coastal enclave relies on Israel for most of its fuel and gas.
The halt in fuel could shut down Gaza’s sole power plant and lead to further electricity cuts for households and businesses, according to Mohammad Thabet, an official with Gaza’s main power distribution company.
Palestinians in Gaza currently get six hours of electricity followed by a 10 hour power cut.
A cease-fire deal brokered last year by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations following a deadly surge in violence was to see Israel allow new development projects, including an industrial zone and a hospital.
Hamas has accused Israel of not fully complying with those understandings. Israel, which deems Hamas a terrorist organization, shuns direct negotiations and has never publicly acknowledged the deal.
On Wednesday, Israel reduced the area where it permits Palestinians to fish from 15 miles (24 km) to eight miles (13 km), calling it a response to the balloon launches.


Whole of Iran on coronavirus red alert due to rise in deaths: Health official

Updated 1 min 1 sec ago

Whole of Iran on coronavirus red alert due to rise in deaths: Health official

TEHRAN: A senior Iranian health official has declared a coronavirus red alert covering the entire country as daily deaths and cases increase at an alarming rate, Iranian state TV reported on Friday.
Iran, one of the Middle Eastern countries hardest hit by the pandemic, has been divided up into white, orange/yellow and red regions based on the number of infections and deaths.
The death toll rose by 144 to 23,952 on Friday, while the total number of identified cases spiked by 3,049 to 416,198, health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said on television.
“The color classification doesn’t make sense anymore. We no longer have orange and yellow. The entire country is red,” deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi said on television.
“If the current course continues, the death toll will reach 45,000,” he added, without giving a time frame.
In the northwestern city of Tabriz, for instance, the number of hospitalized patients had jumped from under 40 a day to 160, and in the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Qom it had increased from 10 a day to 160, Harirchi said, again without providing a time period for the increases.
He said only a 95% use of masks and a 50% fall in gatherings could reduce the death toll.