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As ceasefire holds, Israel reopens Gaza crossings for humanitarian aid

Hamas said to threaten renewed fighting over any change to ‘status quo,’ reject proposed condition of releasing captives in exchange for Strip’s reconstruction

A Jordanian mobile field hospital passes into Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, through the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza from Israel, on May 21, 2021, after a ceasefire brokered by Egypt between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas  terror group. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
A Jordanian mobile field hospital passes into Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, through the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza from Israel, on May 21, 2021, after a ceasefire brokered by Egypt between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas terror group. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Israel decided to reopen its crossings with Gaza on Tuesday to allow fuel and humanitarian aid to enter the coastal enclave for the first time in more than two weeks, Israel’s liaison to the Palestinians said on Monday night.

All crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip were completely shut down two weeks ago, when the Hamas terror group launched rockets at Jerusalem and initiated 11 days of fighting.

Sporadic exemptions for foreign journalists and some aid convoys were granted since hostilities ceased on Friday morning. Starting Tuesday morning, however, Erez Crossing will open for humanitarian cases — such as Gazans seeking medical treatment in Israel — and for foreign journalists and aid workers.

The Kerem Shalom commercial crossing will reopen for fuel and humanitarian aid, the office acting as liaison to the Palestinians, commonly known by its acronym COGAT, said in a statement.

A truck loaded with humanitarian aid, passes into Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, through the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza from Israel, on May 21, 2021, after a ceasefire brokered by Egypt between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas terror group (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The Israeli government also authorized reopening the Gaza fishing zone to its usual six miles. Fishing is a significant source of revenue for the beleaguered enclave, and Israel has raised and lowered the limit several times in recent years in a bid to pressure Hamas.

“These civilian measures, approved by the political echelon, are conditional upon the preservation of security stability,” COGAT said.

Leaders of Hamas, meanwhile, have reportedly rejected conditions that Israel is seeking to impose on Gaza’s reconstruction, including a proposal to limit the entry of goods into the coastal enclave.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday said Israel will not permit the full reconstruction of Gaza, as well as the entry of aid that is not humanitarian, until the terror group releases two Israeli civilians who crossed into the Strip, and returns the bodies of two soldiers.

Hamas “cannot be blackmailed,” the Lebanese Al-Akhbar newspaper quoted officials in the terror group as saying on Monday in response to Gantz’s proposal.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, behind them, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman, at a press conference after the Gaza ceasefire, Tel Aviv, May 21, 2021. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

The two Israelis — Avraham Avera Mengistu and Hisham a-Sayed — entered the Gaza Strip of their own accord, and their families say they suffered from mental illness. Hamas is also holding the bodies of Oren Shaul and Hadar Goldin, two IDF soldiers who were killed in the Strip during the 2014 Gaza war.

“The most desirable change in my view is to strengthen the Palestinian Authority as much as possible,” Gantz told reporters on Sunday, “and not to let Hamas be the one that sets the agenda, not in the area of the Gaza Strip or in Gaza itself.”

Hamas officials have also threatened to resume rocket attacks if Israel seeks to impose a new status quo on Gaza following the 11 days of fighting, after some officials called for a harsher response, including the renewal of assassinations of Hamas leaders.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday vowed that Hamas would see a much tougher Israeli stance, and that any future rocket fire from Gaza would be met with “a whole new level of force.”

“We changed the equation not only with regard to the operation but also with regard to the future. If Hamas thinks we will tolerate a ‘drizzle’ of rockets, it is mistaken,” Netanyahu said, referring to the sporadic fire often seen from Gaza between major conflicts in recent years.

Also Monday, Gantz ordered the confiscation of shipments of materials and equipment to Gaza that the military claims are intended for Hamas’ military efforts.

A Palestinian policeman waves on a truck as it enters through the Kerem Shalom crossing into the Gaza Strip on September 1, 2020, after a Qatari-mediated deal with Israel. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

In the days that preceded the latest round of fighting that began May 10, inspectors at the Kerem Shalom crossing nabbed shipments of potassium chloride, glycerin, polyurethane, fiberglass, and other materials, as well as sophisticated communications equipment, the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

Gantz also ordered the confiscation of an estimated NIS 1 million ($310,000) worth of gold that the Israel Defense Forces caught being smuggled from Gaza to the West Bank, which officials said was intended to fund Hamas terror operations in the West Bank.

Meanwhile, in Gaza on Monday, a spokesman for Hamas’s armed wing told a crowd of supporters that Hamas will respond to any Israeli escalation in kind. “Our actions precede our words and our missiles are in their silos ready and awaiting the decision,” a spokesperson for the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades said.

The spokesperson delivered the remarks at an event mourning terrorists who were killed during the recent hostilities with Israel, attended by the group’s Gaza leader, Yahya Sinwar.

“We say to the occupation with consistency and clarity: if you return, so shall we. If you escalate, so shall we. Our fingers are on the trigger, and our battle has chapters still unwritten,” the spokesperson said.

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