Israel to reopen Gaza goods crossing if calm holds

Israel to reopen Gaza goods crossing if calm holds
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A Palestinian man reads a book during clashes with Israeli forces along the border with the Gaza strip east of Jabalia on May 18, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED

Jerusalem: Israel will reopen its only goods crossing with the blockaded Gaza Strip on Tuesday if calm holds following a ceasefire, a minister said, after closing it July 9 partly over kites carrying firebombs.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned separately, however, that the military was prepared for far more intense strikes in the Gaza Strip if it deems necessary after a severe flare-up of violence on Friday.

UN officials meanwhile said that the Gaza Strip was facing serious fuel shortages affecting hospitals as well as water and sanitation facilities, calling for restrictions to be lifted.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday spoke of reopening the goods crossing, known as Kerem Shalom.

“If today and tomorrow the situation continues as it was yesterday, then on Tuesday we will allow Kerem Shalom to return to normal activity and the fishing zones will return to the same distances as before,” he said.

Lieberman, speaking at the crossing, stressed that calm also meant an end to months of kites and balloons carrying firebombs over the border fence from the Palestinian enclave run by Islamist movement Hamas to burn Israeli farmland.

Israeli authorities say hundreds of fires have been started by the firebombs since April.

Lieberman said “the key is quiet, calm, zero firebombs, zero friction on the fence and zero rockets or, God forbid, shooting.”

A spokesman for Israel’s fire service said there were no fires caused by the devices along the Gaza border on Saturday and Sunday. He said there had been an average of around 24 per day in recent weeks.

But on Sunday evening the Israeli military said that one of its aircraft had earlier fired “at a terrorist squad launching arson balloons from the northern Gaza Strip into Israeli territory”.

There were no reports of casualties.

The comments by Lieberman and Netanyahu came after a ceasefire was reached following a major flare-up of violence between Palestinian militants in Gaza and Israel on Friday.

The escalation — the second in as many weeks — followed months of tension that have raised fears that a fourth war since 2008 could erupt between Hamas and Israel.

The ceasefire followed a wave of deadly Israeli air strikes across Gaza sparked by the death of an Israeli soldier shot near the border.

There has been relative calm on the Gaza border since the ceasefire.

“At the weekend we gave Hamas a very severe blow, and if necessary we will strike them sevenfold,” Netanyahu said.

– ‘Being fast depleted’ –
Israel announced on July 9 that the goods crossing was being closed to most deliveries partly in response to the firebombs and other incidents along the border fence.

On July 17, it further tightened the restrictions to also prevent fuel deliveries while reducing the fishing zone Israel enforces off Gaza to three nautical miles from six.

The crossing has remained open for food and medicine on a case-by-case basis.

The UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, Jamie McGoldrick, said Sunday that “supplies of emergency fuel provided by the UN for critical facilities in Gaza are being fast depleted.”

He called on Israel to end restrictions on fuel imports and warned hospitals could soon be forced to close, with emergency supplies set to run out in early August.

“Given ongoing blackouts of about 20 hours a day, if fuel does not come in immediately, people’s lives will be at stake, with the most vulnerable patients, like cardiac patients, those on dialysis, and newborns in intensive care, at highest risk,” he said in a statement.

Gaza suffers from a severe electricity shortage and relies on generators in many cases.

Mass protests and clashes erupted on the Gaza border on March 30 and have continued at varying levels since then.

At least 149 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since March 30. The soldier shot dead on Friday was the first Israeli killed in that period.

Gaza’s only other goods crossing is with Egypt. It had been kept largely closed in recent years, but Egypt opened it in mid-May and the crossing, known as Rafah, has remained open most of the time since then.

Agence France-Presse