Israel announced Sunday morning that it was gradually reopening its Gaza Strip border crossings, as a fragile ceasefire with Palestinian Islamic Jihad held overnight after five days of fighting.
The Erez Crossing for pedestrians opened at 8 a.m. and the Kerem Shalom Crossing was slated to open at 11 a.m., the Unit for Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced. Both crossings were shuttered once the IDF launched Operation Shield and Arrow early Tuesday morning in response to PIJ rocket fire earlier this month.
The statement from COGAT, which serves as the military liaison to the Palestinians, said the crossing reopening would be “partial and gradual” without elaborating. It also said that it was reopening the maritime area for Gaza fishermen, which is similarly constricted or blocked entirely during times of fighting.
Currently, the designated Gaza fishing zone extends 15 nautical miles from the coast of the Palestinian enclave, the largest it has been since the naval blockade began in 2008. In response to rocket attacks, Israel has at times reduced the zone to six or even three nautical miles. And in times of war, the fishing zone is closed off entirely.
The decision to reopen the crossing came less than a day after COGAT said that PIJ had launched dozens of mortars at the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings, which would prevent Israel from reopening the border.
“The rocket fire at the crossings, as well as the failed rocket fire, harms the residents of the Gaza Strip,” its statement said. The Saturday press release also included footage of a PIJ-fired projectile slamming into one of the crossings.
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The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire went into effect at 10 p.m. on Saturday, putting a stop to five days of intense fighting that saw over 1,200 rockets launched at Israel as the Israeli military respond by targeting Islamic Jihad members, command centers, rocket launchers and capabilities in the Palestinian enclave.
Two civilians in Israel were killed by Islamic Jihad rockets since the IDF launched the operation — an Israeli woman in Rehovot and a Palestinian man from Gaza who was working in a greenhouse near the southern agricultural community of Shokeda.
Israel has killed 18 Islamic Jihad operatives in addition to at least 10 Palestinian civilians, an IDF official said Saturday. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry put the death toll at 33, but the IDF official noted that some Gaza civilians were likely killed by Islamic Jihad rockets that landed inside the Strip.
Israel and Egypt have placed tight controls on movement in and out of Gaza for a decade and a half. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent Gaza’s terror groups from being able to arm themselves.
Rights groups, however, lament the blockade’s impact on civilians in the impoverished enclave. Roughly half of Gazans are unemployed, including many young people with college degrees.