Gaza pedestrian crossing remains closed for 7th day, may open only after Yom Kippur

Erez Crossing, closed for Rosh Hashanah last weekend, stays shut in response to near-daily rioting on Israel’s border

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

View of the closed Erez Crossing, also known as the Beit Hanoun Crossing, between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip, on August 18, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)
View of the closed Erez Crossing, also known as the Beit Hanoun Crossing, between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip, on August 18, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

Israel has kept shut its sole pedestrian crossing with the Gaza Strip for the past seven days in response to rioting on the border, and it is expected to reopen only after Yom Kippur next week.

The Erez Crossing — along with West Bank checkpoints — was shuttered for Palestinians on Friday morning, September 15, ahead of the Rosh Hashanah holiday, the Jewish New Year.

Such closures are standard practice during festivals and holidays, in what the military says is a preventative measure against attacks at those times, which are seen as periods of increased tension.

Ahead of and during Rosh Hashanah, hundreds of Palestinians rioted on the Gaza border, detonating explosive devices, setting tires on fire, trying to breach the security barrier, and opening fire at troops in a handful of cases.

The Israel Defense Forces said troops have been deploying crowd dispersal means and using live fire in some cases against the rioters.

In response to the riots, as a warning, the IDF struck an observation post belonging to the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group near the border on Friday.

Palestinian rioters clash with Israeli soldiers on the Gaza border, east of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on September 19, 2023. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

After the riots continued during the Jewish holiday, the military’s liaison to the Palestinians — the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, known by its acronym COGAT — announced on Sunday night that Erez Crossing would not reopen the following morning as initially planned. The West Bank crossings reopened Monday morning.

Riots on the Gaza border resumed during the following days despite the Israeli sanctions.

COGAT announced Thursday morning that the crossing would continue to remain closed, following an assessment of the situation by security officials and instructions by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi.

The crossing will likely remain closed until Tuesday morning at the earliest, after Yom Kippur, which begins Sunday night. All other crossings, including Ben Gurion Airport, will be closed during Yom Kippur.

The Erez Crossing is always closed on Saturdays, with limited access on Fridays. Gazans cannot leave via the crossing on Fridays, but are able to reenter the Gaza Strip during the morning hours.

Israeli officials say the crossing will remain closed as long as the riots continue.

The closure affects 17,000 Gazans who have permits to enter Israel for work. The Strip’s economy is harmed by the laborers being barred entry to Israel.

A Palestinian demonstrator throws a tear gas canister back at Israeli forces during clashes along the Israel-Gaza border, east of Khan Yunis town in the southern Gaza Strip on September 15, 2023. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The rioting in recent weeks has left at least seven Palestinians dead, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip. Six of them were killed while mishandling a makeshift bomb that was supposed to be planted on the border, while the seventh was shot by Israeli soldiers.

No IDF soldiers have been wounded in the recent riots so far.

The riots, according to military assessments, come as Hamas seeks to resolve a dispute it has with Qatar over monthly funding the Gulf nation provides to the Palestinian enclave.

Qatar is a key backer of Hamas, providing the Gaza Strip’s rulers with millions of dollars each month in recent years, part of unofficial ceasefire arrangements between Israel and the terror group. The money goes toward fuel for the territory, Hamas civil servants, and needy residents.

Hamas uses the proceeds from the sale of the fuel it gets to pay salaries for its civil servants. However, due to the rising prices of gasoline, the monthly installment of $30 million that was recently transferred to Hamas netted the group less funds than usual, Kan reported.

Hamas has reportedly asked Qatar to increase the monthly sum to adjust for inflation, but it so far has not agreed to the demand.

Hamas apparently launched the riots on the Gaza border to pressure Israel, which would in turn pressure Qatar to solve the issue.

According to military assessments described to The Times of Israel, the IDF fears the riots could spark an escalation with Hamas.

While the IDF believes Hamas is not interested in a war with Israel, a mistake by the terror group amid the border riots could draw an Israeli response and, in turn, rocket launches at Israel.

Palestinian rioters clash with Israeli soldiers on the Gaza border, east of Khan Yunis, September 17, 2023. (Yousef Mohammed/Flash90)

The recent riots signal a return by Hamas and other terror factions in the Gaza Strip to a policy of regular mass protests and violence along the border.

Weekly protests along the frontier began at the end of March 2018 and continued almost every Friday until the end of 2019, with the demand that Israel lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave, and a call for the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands that are now a part of the Jewish state.

The weekly protests on the border in 2018 and 2019 frequently involved violence, including the hurling of explosives, rocks and firebombs at IDF soldiers, as well as attempts to storm and sabotage the border fence, and in some cases live fire toward Israeli soldiers. Troops often responded with rubber-coated bullets and tear gas, as well as live fire. More than 200 Palestinians were killed in the riots and thousands were injured.

In addition, Palestinians regularly flew helium balloons into Israel carrying explosives and incendiary devices, sparking fires that destroyed large swaths of foliage.

The military says that while far fewer people were participating in the recent riots — hundreds at most compared to tens of thousands in 2018 and 2019 — the level of violence was just as high.

Explosive devices detonated on the border have not caused any significant damage to the security barrier, as the riots have taken place along Israel’s older fence, rather than near the upgraded security barrier, which was built several meters into Israeli territory.

According to IDF assessments, there was a low chance that the current riots would return to the form of the 2018 and 2019 border protests, but there was still a risk of an escalation.

Hamas terrorists take part in a military parade marking the anniversary of the 2014 war with Israel, in the central Gaza Strip, on July 19, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

Gaza has been blockaded by both Israel and Egypt for over 15 years in an attempt to contain the enclave’s Hamas rulers. Israel says the tight restrictions on goods and people are necessary due to the terror group’s efforts to massively arm itself for attacks against the Jewish state.

Critics lament the blockade’s impact on ordinary Gazans, around 50 percent of whom are unemployed, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. The sky-high poverty rates make employment in Israel a highly attractive option for those lucky enough to receive permits.

In Gaza, Palestinian workers can expect an average daily wage of about NIS 60 ($17.35). The few allowed to cross into Israel to work might get as much as NIS 400 ($115.66) per day, according to a report last year by The Times of Israel’s sister site Zman Yisrael.

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