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, Defence Minister Benny Gantz ordered a halt to fuel imports into Gaza "in light of the continued launching of incendiary balloons from the Strip" towards Israel, the defence 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 ceasefire deal brokered last year by Egypt 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 organisation, 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.
*This story was edited by Ahram Online