Israel reopens Gaza crossing, but Palestinians turn back some trucks

Shipments of medical supplies, but not food and diapers, make it through Kerem Shalom, which was closed for 2 days after being set ablaze by rioters 3 times this month

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

Palestinian truck drivers wait to cross the Kerem Shalom crossing in the southern Gaza Strip on January 14, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinian truck drivers wait to cross the Kerem Shalom crossing in the southern Gaza Strip on January 14, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Palestinian officials on Tuesday refused to allow trucks loaded with goods into the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom Crossing, which Israel had reopened in the morning after rioters from the coastal enclave set fire to parts of the facility three times over the past month.

Shipments of medical supplies, food and diapers arrived at the crossing in the morning. But officials on the Palestinian side said they could only allow through the medical supplies and sent back 14 trucks full of food and diapers, The Times of Israel has learned.

It was not immediately clear why the border officials, who are employed by the Palestinian Authority, would not accept the shipments.

Israel had closed the crossing late last week in order to assess and repair significant damage caused by rioters there last Friday evening.

On Monday night — hours after Gazans again ransacked the facility — the army announced that Israel would be reopening Kerem Shalom on Tuesday.

“Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman approved the recommendation of the Israel Defense Forces and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) to reopen the Kerem Shalom Crossing tomorrow,” the army said in a statement.

The Kerem Shalom Crossing, near the Egyptian border, serves as the main entry point for commercial goods and humanitarian aid into the coastal enclave, which has been subject to a strict blockade by both Israel and Egypt for the past 11 years that is meant to prevent terrorist groups from bringing weapons into the Strip.

While the crossing reopened on Tuesday, it will only be able to function at a partial capacity in light of substantial damage caused to the facility, including to the fuel lines — the only way to bring diesel and gasoline into Gaza in significant quantities.

Palestinian rioters set fire to the Gaza Strip’s Kerem Shalom Crossing on May 14, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Sunday night, the United Nations said an alternative way of getting fuel to Gaza must be found urgently, warning of dwindling supplies needed to run hospitals, pick up garbage, pump water and treat sewage.

Palestinian rioters ransacked the crossing for the third time in two weeks on Monday, toward the end of violent mass protests along the border, the army said.

The Israel Defense Forces said around 40,000 Gazans participated in “unprecedentedly” violent riots along the security fence on Monday. The protests, which Israel said were spurred by Hamas seeking to carry out terror attacks, saw multiple cases of shots fired at Israeli troops and several unsuccessful attempts to breach the border.

IDF soldiers responded with tear gas and, in some cases, live fire. As of Tuesday morning 60 Palestinians were reported killed in the clashes by the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, and another 2,771 injured.

Video footage from the crossing on Monday showed dozens of Palestinians breaking into the facility, vandalizing property, tearing down fences and starting fires in the loading areas.

Rioters first attacked the crossing on May 4. They broke through the gates and, apparently believing they were in Israeli territory, set fire to the fuel lines, according to Israeli officials. In actuality, they were on the Palestinian side of the crossing.

One week later, another group of some 200 people broke into the Palestinian side of the crossing, following that day’s border protests.

However, according to Israeli officials, the Hamas terrorist group directed this attack on the crossing. Its operatives instructed rioters “what to do, where to go,” a senior COGAT officer told reporters on Sunday.

The rioters again set fire to the fuel terminal. They also torched a specially designed conveyor belt used to bring raw construction material into Gaza and wrecked two other conveyor belts used to transport animal feed.

Israeli and Palestinian officials estimate that it will take at least several weeks to bring the fuel lines and conveyor belts back online.

In its appeal, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said “the impact of the destruction of the fuel and gas lines is already being felt,” noting that fuel reserves of hospitals, waste collection services and water and sanitation facilities would last only a few days.

The agency noted that in light of the severe electricity shortage in the Gaza Strip, which currently depends almost entirely on Israel for its 2-4 hours of power a day, the UN “has been providing over 220 critical health, water and sanitation, and solid waste facilities with 936,000 liters (250,000 gallons) of emergency fuel per month to run backup generators and vehicles.”

The disruption of supply at Kerem Shalom now puts those services in danger.

“To avoid a collapse of essential services, an alternative arrangement for the entry of fuel is urgently needed until the Kerem Shalom fuel pipelines are repaired,” the agency said.

It also said the lack of cooking gas and fuel would likely cause shortages of bread and other prepared food.

The humanitarian coordinator for the agency, Jamie McGoldrick, said, “Humanitarian operations depend on the Kerem Shalom Crossing to get assistance to those in need in Gaza. I call on demonstrators to avoid actions that negatively affect the functioning of Gaza’s main entry point for humanitarian goods and on relevant authorities to quickly repair any damage.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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