After reopening crossing, Liberman tells Gazans: Calm pays, violence doesn’t

After reopening crossing, Liberman tells Gazans: Calm pays, violence doesn’t

In Arabic-language Facebook post addressed to residents of the Strip, defense minister says long-term truce depends on return of Israeli captives

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, center, speaks with IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, right, and other senior military officers during a visit to the Gaza Division on August 13, 2018. (Shahar Levi/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, center, speaks with IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, right, and other senior military officers during a visit to the Gaza Division on August 13, 2018. (Shahar Levi/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday called on residents of the Gaza Strip to maintain the relative quiet along the border that has been in place this week, saying doing so was in their best interest as evident by Israel’s decision to reopen the main cargo crossing into the coastal enclave.

“Calm pays, violence doesn’t,” Liberman wrote in an Arabic-language Facebook post, published on the page of Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, known as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

The defense minister made his comment as the Kerem Shalom Crossing into Gaza reopened, after being closed for over a month as punishment for the regular violence along the border, bouts of rocket fire and daily incendiary kite and balloon attacks since March 30, the start of the “March of Return” protests, a series of demonstrations — often violent — along the Gaza security fence.

Liberman also addressed the reports of negotiations for a long-term truce or hudna between Israel and Hamas. He said this would only be possible if the two Israeli civilians and two fallen IDF soldiers were returned.

“As for various proposals regarding a long-term settlement, they must first include an arrangement on prisoners of wars and Israeli soldiers missing in action. But what will ultimately be the deciding factor is not the proposals, but the reality on the ground, and lest anyone have any doubts: We will do everything to ensure the security of the citizens of Israel, and if Hamas turns to violence again, we will respond immediately and in a much more severe manner than before,” he said.

Last Wednesday and Thursday saw a significant flareup between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, with some 200 rockets and mortar shells launched from the Strip and over 150 retaliatory bombing raids by the Israel Defense Forces.

A police officer inspects the damage to a construction site in the southern Israeli town of Sderot near the Gaza border following a rocket hit, on August 9, 2018. (Israel Police)

Though both sides abided by a de facto ceasefire as it related to exchanges of fire, thousands of residents of the Strip took part in riots along the border on Friday. Three people, one of them reportedly a medic, were killed by IDF gunfire during clashes on the fence.

“Last week, the IDF dealt a severe blow to Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, only after we erased Hamas’s internal security headquarters, and only after another violent Friday on the fence in which three were killed and dozens wounded, has quiet prevailed on the Gaza border. The last four days have been the quietest days on the Gaza border since March 30,” Liberman wrote on Facebook.

“I differentiate between the Hamas leadership and the ordinary residents of the Gaza Strip. Therefore, I decided to reopen the Kerem Shalom Crossing and extend the fishing area back to 9 nautical miles, as a clear message to the residents of the Gaza Strip: calm pays, violence doesn’t. The residents of Gaza have much to gain when the citizens of Israel enjoy peace and security, and much to lose when quiet is disturbed,” he said.

A picture taken on August 8, 2018 in Gaza City shows smoke plumes rising following an Israeli air strike. (AFP/MAHMUD HAMS)

Liberman told residents of the Strip that they should not consider Israel, which maintains a full naval blockade around the coastal enclave and strict control over its land crossings, to be the cause of their misery.

“The problem is the Hamas leadership, which uses civilians as live ammunition and as human shields,” he said.

The defense minister indicated that Israel was prepared to offer additional economic incentives to the Strip if calm persisted.

“I want to remind you that before the Oslo process, some 90,000 Gazans worked in the State of Israel, and about 80 factories operated in the Erez and Karni industrial zones (along the border). We hope for you, the residents of Gaza, that all of the budgets of Hamas and the international community will be channeled toward your welfare and to the development of the Gaza Strip, instead of to terrorism,” he said.

“Gaza has the potential to become the Singapore of the Middle East. This would be good for the residents of Gaza, it would be good for Israel, and it would be good for the entire region,” he added.

Israel reopened the Kerem Shalom Crossing into Gaza and extended the Strip’s permitted fishing zone at 9 a.m. on Wednesday.

Trucks are seen at the gate of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza, in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, on July 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

Israel closed Kerem Shalom, the main goods crossing into the beleaguered Palestinian enclave, on July 9 to everything but food and medical equipment, following weeks of violence along the border, including arson attacks.

Israel also severely restricted the Gaza fishing zone, a significant source of revenue for the beleaguered enclave, forcing Palestinian fisherman to remain within three nautical miles (3.5 miles) of the coast.

Palestinian fishing boats are seen at the sea port in Gaza City on April 1, 2016. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

Fuel and gasoline shipments into the Strip have been allowed at some points and frozen at others, depending upon the intensity of attacks from the Strip.

The army said Wednesday morning, Kerem Shalom was returning to full operations and Gazan fishermen were allowed to travel nine nautical miles (10.4 miles) off the coast, as per orders issued by Liberman.

“Following the decision of the Minister of Defense, Mr. Avigdor Liberman, in consultation with the Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the main cargo crossing into Gaza, the Kerem Shalom crossing, will be re-opened this morning for full activity,” the army said.

“In addition, the designated fishing zone off the Gaza Strip will be expanded to nine nautical miles,” the military said.

This week, Israeli authorities noted a significant drop in incendiary kite and balloon attacks from the Palestinian enclave.

Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned in these attacks since March 30, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.

Firefighters extinguish a blaze near the southern city of Sderot caused by an incendiary balloon launched from the Gaza Strip on July 31, 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Senior Israel officials maintain the country has not agreed to the formal ceasefire that Hamas announced late Thursday and said went into effect at midnight. Hamas, a terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, claims the deal was mediated by Egypt and other regional players.

The apparent truce came after two days of spiraling violence that saw some of the heaviest exchanges of fire between Israel and the Gaza terrorist organization since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. During the flareup, Hamas fired over 180 rockets and mortars into southern Israel, with the IDF responding with airstrikes on some 150 Hamas targets in Gaza.

Despite the apparent truce and reprieve in rocket fire, violence has continued on the border, and Israeli tanks struck two Hamas posts in the Gaza Strip Friday evening after a grenade was hurled at troops and amid intense violence during mass riots in several locations along the border.

Palestinian protesters wave their flag as they gather during a demonstration at the Israel-Gaza border, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on August 10, 2018.(AFP PHOTO / Said KHATIB)

Since March, there have been near-weekly, violent protests along the Israel-Gaza border organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, leading to escalations involving rockets fire on Israel and reprisal air strikes.

The deadly border clashes have seen Israeli security forces facing gunfire, grenades, Molotov cocktails, and efforts — sometimes successful — to damage or penetrate the border fence. Last month, an Israeli soldier was killed by a sniper. According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, over 150 Palestinian haves been killed in the violence. Hamas has admitted that dozens of the fatalities were its members or those belonging to other Gaza terror groups.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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