Israel shutters Gaza pedestrian crossing after border clashes

Army says Erez to remain closed until damage by Palestinian rioters is repaired; humanitarian cases to be approved on case-by-case basis

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 announced the temporary closure of its sole pedestrian crossing with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday after the border terminal was damaged during clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians.

Hundreds of Palestinians took part in a violent riot at the Erez Crossing on Tuesday, according to the Israel Defense Forces, during which infrastructure on the Palestinian side of the crossing was damaged by rioters.

“As a result, the crossing has been closed until the repairing of the damage caused as a result of the riot is completed,” the army said in a statement.

It did not indicate when the repairs would be completed.

The army added that the closure does not include humanitarian cases, which it said would be approved on a case-by-case basis.

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 used for transporting goods. It was reopened by Israel on August 15 after it was closed on July 9 to everything but food and medical equipment, following weeks of violence along the border, including arson attacks.

The announcement Wednesday comes after the Erez Crossing was shuttered by Israel for a week last month in response to violence along the border with the Hamas-run enclave.

During Tuesday’s riot at Erez, several Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire, Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry said. The IDF said Palestinians hurled rocks at the crossing in the Strip’s north and damaged infrastructure, prompting troops to respond with tear gas and live fire.

A Palestinian uses a slingshot to throw a stone toward Israeli forces firing tear gas during clashes at the Erez Crossing along the border with Israel on September 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Such protests are rare at Erez, the only terminal for travel into Israel or the West Bank from Gaza.

The violent protest broke several days of calm, which came after understandings were reportedly reached between Israel and Hamas.

Gaza had seen a surge of violence since the start of the “March of Return” protests along the border in March. 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, over 170 protesters have been killed by Israeli fire, according to the Gaza health ministry. Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, 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.

Protesters have on several occasions during the demonstrations vandalized key infrastructure at the Kerem Shalom crossing in central Gaza — the only entry point of outside goods into the Hamas-run Strip.

Such incidents have led the crossing to be closed for significant periods while the damage was repaired.

This past Friday some 5,000 Palestinians protested along the border, with some 180 wounded, according to Palestinian reports.

This picture taken on July 14, 2018, shows Palestinian rockets being fired from Gaza toward Israel. (AFP/Bashar Taleb)

Israel and Hamas have engaged in a number of brief exchanges of fire in recent months that have seen terror groups in Gaza launch hundreds of rockets and mortars toward Israeli territory, including one last month that was the largest flareup in violence since the 2014 war.

UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov and Egyptian officials have been seeking to broker a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas. The two sides have fought three wars since 2008.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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