IDF announces closed military zone at Kerem Shalom as activists block aid again

Despite order, hundreds of protesters, including family members of hostages, cut through fields to skirt police roadblocks and prevent aid trucks from entering Gaza

An Egyptian truck carrying humanitarian aid undergoes security checks at the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing before entering the southern Gaza Strip, on January 22, 2024. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
An Egyptian truck carrying humanitarian aid undergoes security checks at the Israeli side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing before entering the southern Gaza Strip, on January 22, 2024. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

The IDF announced on Sunday the establishment of a closed military zone around the Kerem Shalom crossing into the Gaza Strip, after days of protests by family members of hostages had largely blocked humanitarian aid from passing through.

The new order, which was signed Saturday night by IDF Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, makes it illegal for civilians to be in the vicinity of the crossing or on nearby roads.

Despite the order, hundreds of activists still made it to the crossing on Sunday and told Channel 13 that they had marched through nearby fields to circumvent police roadblocks in order to block trucks from carrying humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Large groups of activists, including some families of hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza, protested daily at the crossing last week, demanding that no aid be allowed to enter Gaza via Israel as long as the hostages remain in captivity.

After repeated attempts, the protesters succeeded at blocking at least some of the aid on Wednesday and did so again on Thursday, Friday and Sunday.

Hamas launched an unprecedented attack on October 7, murdering close to 1,200 people in Israel, most of them civilians, and taking another 253 hostage, 132 of whom remain captive in Gaza.

A map showing the closed military Zone around the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza, January 28, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

In response, Israel launched an extensive military campaign against the terrorist organization, and the government initially said no aid would be allowed into Gaza.

By the end of October, however, Israel was allowing humanitarian aid to enter the Strip through the Rafah crossing on the Gaza border with Egypt. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has since said multiple times that without minimal aid being given to Gaza, the IDF would be unable to complete its objectives in the war due to risks such as diseases.

As part of a temporary truce deal in November, 105 hostages were released, and Israel promised to up the number of trucks carrying aid to 200 a day, but could not keep up with the demand with only one crossing open. As a result, Netanyahu announced in mid-December that Israel would reopen Kerem Shalom to allow more aid into the Strip.

Over the past week, however, protesters have demanded that humanitarian aid for Gaza be withheld until the remainder of the hostages are released, and have gone to the Kerem Shalom crossing daily to attempt to block the trucks.

Relatives and friends of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group gather on the road next to Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza, in southern Israel, January 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Officials in US President Joe Biden’s administration, who have pushed Israel to allow aid for Gaza throughout the war, urged Israel to ensure that the crossing remained open and aid continued to make it through despite the civil disturbances.

Netanyahu repeated that the aid was essential to success in the war during a press conference on Saturday night, and added that officials were instructed to take care of the issue.

“I understand the families’ plight, but [giving aid to Gaza] is our policy,” he said.

Regardless, members of Netanyahu’s government expressed support for the protests, with far-right Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har Melech joining the activists on Sunday after the military zone was announced, and MK Nissim Vaturi, from Netanyahu’s Likud party, telling Kol Chai radio that he too wanted to join them.

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