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Fuel begins entering power-starved Gaza after ceasefire declared

IDF spokesperson credits 100 airstrikes in the Strip, coronavirus outbreak and Qatari aid with pushing Hamas terror group to accept truce; hints at Israeli airstrike in Syria

A gas tanker passes through the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza from Israel, on May 12, 2019. (SAID KHATIB/AFP)
Illustrative. A gas tanker passes through the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza from Israel, on May 12, 2019. (SAID KHATIB/AFP)

Fuel trucks began entering the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom Crossing on Tuesday morning after a ceasefire was struck between Israel and the Hamas terror group the night before.

Hamas-affiliated media in the Strip reported that the fuel would be used for the enclave’s power plant. The plant was shut down after Israel closed the crossing to everything but food and humanitarian aid in response to low-level violence along the Gaza border, particularly terror groups launching dozens of balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices into Israel each day.

On Monday night, after Hamas announced that Qatari envoy Mohammad al-Emadi had brokered the ceasefire agreement, Israel said it would fully reopen the Kerem Shalom Crossing on Tuesday morning and again allow Palestinians to fish off the Gaza coast.

On Tuesday morning, Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman credited the ceasefire to the military’s near-nightly airstrikes on Hamas targets in the Strip, as well as concerns in Gaza about a growing coronavirus outbreak and the promise of Qatari aid money.

In an interview with Kan news, Zilberman said the IDF had bombed roughly 100 Hamas targets in the Strip over the past three weeks, including observation posts, underground infrastructure and munition caches.

The spokesperson also hinted at Israeli involvement in a series of airstrikes on targets in Syria on Monday night.

“The IDF works to ensure its strategic goals through a number of activities,” Zilberman said when asked about the attack, in which at least two Syrian soldiers were killed.

The Qatari envoy to the Gaza Strip, Mohammed al-Emadi, speaks during a press conference in Gaza City on May 14, 2019. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

The Gaza ceasefire was brokered by Qatar, as well as the Egyptian military and the United Nations. It ended a nearly month-long round of low-level violence along the Gaza border.

Israel did not explicitly confirm the existence of an agreement, but tacitly acknowledged it by promising to reopen the fishing zone and crossings if calm was maintained.

“This decision will be tested on the ground: If Hamas, which is responsible for all actions that are taken in the Gaza Strip, fails to meet its obligations, Israel will act accordingly,” said Israel’s military liaison department to the Palestinians, known formally as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

“The resumption of the civilian policy vis-à-vis the Gaza Strip is subject to the continuation of calm and security stability,” COGAT said.

The breakthrough in the negotiations came as the number of coronavirus cases in the beleaguered Palestinian enclave continued to rise by dozens each day, threatening another humanitarian crisis in an area that already lacks regular access to electricity and potable water.

Beginning on August 6, terrorists in the Strip again began launching dozens of balloon-borne incendiary and explosive devices into southern Israel each day, sparking dozens of fires daily that burned many acres of Israeli land and caused a small amount of property damage. Over the past week, sporadic rocket attacks have struck Gaza-adjacent communities, causing damage to homes and light injuries.

A fireman seeks to put out a blaze caused by an arson balloon lofted from Gaza toward Israeli border communities on August 26, 2020. (Eshkol Regional Council)

Monday saw at least 15 fires in southern Israel that were sparked by airborne arson attacks, the fire department said.

In response to the balloon attacks and the rockets, the IDF conducted near-nightly reprisal raids on Hamas sites in the Strip since August 12, bombing both above- and below-ground facilities, while refraining from hitting operatives. On August 16, Israel also halted the transfer of all goods into the enclave, save for food and humanitarian aid, and barred Palestinians from fishing off the Gaza coast.

Smoke rises in the distance after IDF planes carried out airstrikes on Hamas targets near Gaza City on August 28, 2020. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

In a statement Monday night, Hamas said the agreement was brokered by Qatari envoy al-Emadi, who has been meeting regularly with Gazan and Israeli officials over the past week.

“As part of these efforts, a number of projects that serve our people in the Gaza Strip will be announced and contribute to alleviating our crises in light of the coronavirus wave that befell the Gaza Strip, as well as the return of the situation to the status quo,” Hamas said.

Al-Emadi was also expected to soon begin distributing the nearly $30 million he brought into the Strip, which will go to purchasing fuel, paying civil servants and helping Gaza’s poor.

The Qatari envoy also announced that a ceasefire had been achieved.

Al-Emadi praised the Hamas leadership, which he said possessed “a high level of responsibility… taking into account the difficult circumstances and conditions that the residents of the Strip live in, especially in light of the spread of coronavirus in the Gaza Strip.”

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov hailed the ceasefire, saying it allowed the UN to begin assisting the Strip in dealing with its growing coronavirus outbreak.

“I welcome the agreement to deescalate tensions in and around Gaza. Ending the launching of incendiary devices and projectiles, restoring electricity will allow UN to focus on dealing with the COVID-19 crisis,” Mladenov said.

Hamas and other terror groups in the Strip have demanded a total end of the blockade on the enclave in exchange for an end to hostilities — a request that is unlikely to be accepted by Israel, which believes that such an open border would be used by terrorist organizations to bring large quantities of weapons into Gaza. However, Israel has at times loosened its restrictions on what types of goods can enter the Strip.

The groups have also asked for new internationally funded infrastructure programs for the beleaguered enclave.

Over the past two and a half years, Israel has waged 11 rounds of fighting with terror groups in the Strip.

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