Israel said urging Egypt to reopen Gaza crossing over fears of fresh violence

Israel said urging Egypt to reopen Gaza crossing over fears of fresh violence

Qatari daily says defense officials in Jerusalem concerned ‘squeezing’ Hamas too much will shatter relative calm in Palestinian enclave

Palestinians sit waiting at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip, on January 8, 2019. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Palestinians sit waiting at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, in the southern Gaza Strip, on January 8, 2019. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Israel has reportedly urged Egypt to fully reopen the Rafah crossing with the Gaza Strip out of fears the shuttered border will lead to a fresh round of violence in and around the Palestinian territory.

Senior Egyptian officials were quoted in a report Thursday in the Qatari al-Araby al-Jadid newspaper as saying that the Israeli defense establishment “is concerned that squeezing the Gaza Strip will turn the attention of the Palestinian factions toward” Israel.

According to the report, Hamas has opened “extensive” lines of communication with Cairo in recent days as senior members of the Gaza-ruling terror group seek to have the key crossing reopened in both directions. It is the only point of entry and exit from the Gaza Strip that does not go through Israel.

On Wednesday, senior Hamas member Bassem Naim told the Chinese news agency Xinhua that Egypt has promised to reopen Rafah in both directions as soon as possible.

The Palestinian Authority on Sunday announced its staff would no longer man the Rafah crossing handed over by Hamas in 2017 as part of a Palestinian reconciliation deal. The Ramallah-based government accused its Hamas rivals of “summoning, arresting and abusing our employees” in the Gaza Strip, according to official PA news agency Wafa.

Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas (R) stand guard outside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt just minutes before the Palestinian Authority withdraws its staff (L) from the Rafah border crossing with Egypt on January 7, 2019. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Hamas on Monday retook the post, in what it said was an attempt to maintain border control after the shock PA withdrawal.

After Hamas resumed control, Egypt announced it was closing Rafah to departures from the Palestinian enclave. Gaza’s Hamas-run interior ministry said in a statement late Monday that Egyptian authorities had informed it that the crossing “will be limited to only the arrival of individuals and the entry of goods” into the Strip.

It did not say for how long it was expected to be closed to those leaving Gaza, and there was no immediate comment from Egypt.

Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, ousted the Fatah-dominated PA from Gaza in 2007.

But the PA took back control of the Rafah crossing in November 2017, as part of a deal for Egypt to reopen the border, which had been entirely shut since August of that year and largely sealed for years before that.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 28, 2018. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

The PA’s takeover of Rafah was seen as a first step toward implementing a reconciliation agreement between it and Hamas. However, the Egyptian-brokered deal has subsequently broken down and the PA has taken a series of measures against Hamas, including by reducing the salaries of civil servants in Gaza.

Palestinian officials aligned with PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement have threatened further action against Hamas over its refusal to hand over power in the Gaza Strip, even as Israel has sought to preserve calm in and around the territory.

After weeks of relative calm, rocket fire was launched at Israel from Gaza this week, and the Israel Defense Forces struck Hamas targets in Gaza in response.

The IDF said it targeted a terrorist training camp in the northern Gaza Strip early Monday. It followed an overnight rocket attack toward the city of Ashkelon. The rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, causing no injuries.

Iron Dome missiles intercept rockets from Gaza seen in the sky in Southern Israel, on November 12, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The exchange marked a brief flareup two months after a massive wave of rocket attacks led to fierce Israeli retaliation and nearly brought the region to another war.

The violence in Gaza has largely subsided in recent weeks after an Egyptian-brokered deal in which Israel allowed Qatar to provide millions of dollars in aid for fuel and Hamas salaries in the enclave. However, the rise in tensions between Hamas and the PA has raised concerns of a possible backlash against Israel from Gaza.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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