Israel reopens sole Gaza crossing for people after punitive closure

Facility that sees some 1,000 Palestinians enter Israel each day was damaged in riots last week

Palestinians chant slogans and wave flags during clashes at the Erez Crossing along the border with Israel on September 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)
Palestinians chant slogans and wave flags during clashes at the Erez Crossing along the border with Israel on September 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Israel reopened the Erez border crossing on Thursday, the only crossing for people between Israel and the Gaza Strip, more than a week after shutting it following a Palestinian protest that damaged the site.

The reopening follows several days of relative calm, as Egyptian and UN officials attempt to broker a long-term truce between Israel and Gaza’s terrorist Hamas rulers.

A spokeswoman for the Defense Ministry unit that oversees the Erez crossing confirmed it had reopened on Thursday.

On September 5, the army said that hundreds of “rioters” had vandalized the Gaza side of the crossing, and that it would remain closed until the damage was repaired. It later said that it would extend the closure until Thursday as a punitive measure.

Israel and Egypt have enforced an air, land and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip, but Israel grants permission to a limited number of people to cross.

Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, from arming and constructing tunnels and other means for carrying out attacks against Israelis.

Palestinians wait while others present travel documents to Palestinian Authority officers at the Erez crossing with Israel near Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip on August 27, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

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

A second crossing with Israel, Kerem Shalom, is for goods only.

Recent weeks have seen relatively less violence at the border than at the height of the protests some months ago.

There have long been reports of talks on a UN- and Egypt-brokered truce agreement that would end the months-long flareup of hostilities — the most severe since the 2014 war.

The surge of violence in Gaza began in March with a series of protests along the border that were dubbed the “March of Return.” 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, at least 127 Palestinians have been killed in the clashes, according to a tally from The Associated Press. Hamas, which seized control of the Strip in 2007, has acknowledged that dozens of those killed were its members. During that time, a Gaza sniper killed an Israeli soldier.

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.

Gaza’s only other link to the outside world is the Rafah crossing with Egypt. It was closed for years but has been largely open to restricted categories of Palestinians since mid-May.

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