Israel closes Gaza border crossing till next Thursday, blames recent riots

Announcement of Erez’s shuttering appears mostly symbolic, as a general closure is at any rate expected in West Bank, Gaza for most of the coming week due to Rosh Hashanah

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Palestinians are seen crossing at the Erez crossing with Israel near Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip on  August 27, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Palestinians are seen crossing at the Erez crossing with Israel near Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip on August 27, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman ordered on Thursday that the Erez Pedestrian Crossing into the Gaza Strip be kept closed for a week as punishment over rioting and vandalism perpetrated at the site by a group of Palestinians earlier in the week.

“After the vandalism incident we witnessed this past Tuesday, I have decided that the Erez Crossing will remain closed until next Thursday (September 13). This is also how I will act if similar incidents occur in the future,” Liberman announced in an Arabic-language Facebook post.

Exceptions will be made on a case-by-case basis for humanitarian considerations.

However, the crossing likely would have been shuttered for nearly the same amount of time regardless of the riots because of next week’s Rosh Hashanah holiday.

The pedestrian and goods crossings into the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are typically shuttered during major Jewish holidays, like Rosh Hashanah, which begins on Sunday night and ends on Tuesday night.

On Wednesday, Israel closed the Erez Crossing, through which approximately 1,000 Palestinians travel each day, in order to repair the damage caused by the riot on the Gaza side of the facility the day before.

A Palestinian uses a slingshot to throw a stone toward Israeli forces firing tear gas during clashes at the Erez Crossing along the border with Israel on September 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

“Residents of Gaza, I want to bring to your attention that we will not tolerate violence. Anyone who participates in terror needs to know that they are harming the livelihoods of the residents of Gaza. On the other hand, there will be economic returns if there is quiet on the security front,” Liberman wrote on Thursday.

Liberman posted his message on the “el-Munasek” Facebook page belonging to Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, known formally as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.

During the riot at Erez, several Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire, Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said. The Israel Defense Forces said Palestinians hurled rocks at the crossing in the Strip’s north and damaged infrastructure, prompting troops to respond with tear gas and live fire.

An average of 1,000 Gazans cross through Erez each day, mostly those in need of medical care but also businesspeople, students, and others, according to Israeli authorities.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman tours an army drill in northern Israel on August 7, 2018. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

A second crossing with Israel, Kerem Shalom, is used for transporting goods. In July and August it was closed from more than a month to everything but food and medical equipment, following weeks of violence along the border, including arson attacks.

Throughout the spring and summer, three large-scale riots took place at the Kerem Shalom Crossing, which also required Israel to shut the facility down in order to make repairs. However, Such protests are rare at Erez, the only terminal for travel into Israel or the West Bank from Gaza.

The Erez riot broke several days of calm, which came after understandings were reportedly reached between Israel and Hamas.

Gaza had seen a surge of violence since the start of the “March of Return” protests along the border in March. The clashes, which Gaza’s Hamas rulers orchestrated, have included rock and Molotov cocktail attacks on troops, as well as attempts to breach the border fence and attack Israeli soldiers.

Since the protests began in March, over at least 125 protesters have been killed by Israeli fire, according to the Gaza health ministry. Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of those killed were its members. During that time, a Gaza sniper killed an Israeli soldier.

A Palestinian uses a slingshot to hurl a stone toward Israeli forces during clashes in the northern Gaza Strip near the Erez border crossing with Israel on September 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

During the demonstrations, protesters have also launched incendiary kites and balloons into Israel, sparking fires that have destroyed forests, burned crops, and killed livestock. Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.

This past Friday some 5,000 Palestinians protested along the border, with some 180 wounded, according to Palestinian reports.

Israel and Hamas have engaged in a number of brief exchanges of fire in recent months that have seen terror groups in Gaza launch hundreds of rockets and mortars toward Israeli territory, including one last month that was the largest flareup in violence since the 2014 war.

UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov and Egyptian officials have been seeking to broker a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas. The two sides have fought three wars since 2008.

Times of Israel staff and Agencies contributed to this report.

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