Israel closes north Gaza border crossing
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Israel closes north Gaza border crossing

Passage for pedestrians is sealed despite parallel reports of progress toward a ceasefire deal; no comment from Defense Ministry on how long closure will continue

Palestinians arrive to cross into Gaza at the Erez Crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip on September 3, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Palestinians arrive to cross into Gaza at the Erez Crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip on September 3, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Defense Ministry confirmed Sunday morning that the Erez Crossing on the Gaza Strip’s northern border was closed in response to Friday’s violent border clashes.

The decision was made by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman after an assessment of the situation on Saturday evening.

There was no mention of how long the closure would last.

The move was first reported by Palestinian media sources in Gaza and the West Bank, who said that Israel told the Hamas terror group controlling the Gaza Strip that it would close the border crossing on Sunday morning.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, center, speaks with IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, right, and other senior military officers during a visit to the Gaza Division on August 13, 2018. (Shahar Levi/Defense Ministry)

The border crossing, which acts as the only pedestrian crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel, will still be open for medical emergencies requiring the transfer of Gazans to Israeli hospitals, according to Palestinian media reports.

The majority of pedestrians who pass through the crossing are seeking medical treatment.

On Friday thousands of Gazans demonstrated along the Israeli border near the Erez Crossing in weekly Hamas-backed “March of Return” demonstrations. Hamas leaders had urged the public to participate in Friday’s protests.

Rioters hurled rocks, improvised bombs and Molotov cocktails at soldiers and burned tires to create a smokescreen. Others launched incendiary balloons toward Israel.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza reported that two men had been killed and around 250 injured, of which at least 25 were said hit by live fire.

The closure of the Erez Crossing comes as senior members of Hamas say that negotiations for a long-term ceasefire deal are in “the final stretch.”

Last week, the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV channel reported that the long-term deal taking shape will last for a year and see the establishment of a cargo shipping connection between Gaza and Cyprus. Israel will have security control over the sea traffic between the Palestinian coastal enclave and Cyprus, according to the report, which cited sources familiar with the details.

Palestinians take part in clashes on the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on August 17, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Recent months have seen repeated rounds of intense violence between Israel and Hamas, along with weekly border protests at the Gaza border that have regularly included rioting, attacks on Israeli troops and attempts to infiltrate and sabotage the border fence.

At least 160 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the weekly protests began, a Hamas ministry says. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of those killed were its members.

One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.

In addition to the border clashes, southern Israel has experienced hundreds of fires as a result of incendiary kites and balloons flown over the border from Gaza. Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.

Hamas has long made access to a sea port a key strategic goal. Under the conditions of Israel’s naval blockade, goods heading to Gaza are currently shipped to Israeli ports and then trucked into Gaza.

Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza since Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, seized the territory from the Palestinian Authority. It says the blockade is in place in order to prevent weapons and other military equipment from entering the Strip.

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