1 rocket falls short of border; 2 land in open Israeli areas

Israel shutters Gaza pedestrian crossing after three more rockets fired at south

Gantz had vowed ‘harsh response’ to continued rocket fire, but military doesn’t strike Hamas sites overnight; Erez Crossing to reopen following assessment on Sunday

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Palestinian workers are seen at the Erez crossing in the northern Gaza Strip, as they wait to enter Israel for work, on March 13, 2022. (Attia Muhammed/Flash90)
Palestinian workers are seen at the Erez crossing in the northern Gaza Strip, as they wait to enter Israel for work, on March 13, 2022. (Attia Muhammed/Flash90)

Israel announced the temporary closure of its sole pedestrian crossing with the Gaza Strip on Saturday, after three rockets were fired from the Hamas-run coastal enclave at southern Israel late Friday and overnight.

According to the military’s liaison to the Palestinians, the crossing will not reopen for Palestinian workers on Sunday after it had been shuttered since Thursday afternoon due to the Passover holiday.

“Following the rockets that were fired toward Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip last night, it was decided that crossings into Israel for Gazan merchants and workers through the Erez Crossing will not be permitted this upcoming Sunday,” the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, known by its acronym COGAT, said in a statement.

“The re-opening of the crossing will be decided in accordance with a security situational assessment,” COGAT added.

The crossing — along with crossings with the West Bank — was already closed since Thursday at 5 p.m., and was to remain in effect until Saturday at an hour yet to be determined.

Exceptions are made for humanitarian and other outstanding cases but require the approval of COGAT.

The number of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who can work in Israel was raised to 12,000 last month, and the government said it would raise it by an additional 8,000, to a total of 20,000.

Israel avoided responding militarily to the three rockets, despite a series of strikes this week that came in response to similar attacks.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz had vowed on Thursday to provide a “harsh response” to continued rocket fire.

“The defense minister noted that before the holiday [of Passover], forces and preparedness in the area were upped, and that the policy of a harsh response to all terror activities will continue,” Gantz’s office said. The defense minister had met with leaders of communities near the border with the Gaza Strip, hours after Israeli jets struck Hamas targets following an earlier rocket attack.

On Friday night, one rocket landed in an open field in the Sha’ar Hanegev regional council, while the second fell short in the northern Gaza Strip, according to the military. Hours later, a third rocket was fired from the southern Gaza Strip, landing in an open area near a town close to the border.

It was the fifth rocket attack on southern Israel in a week, after one fell short in Gaza on Thursday, one landed near a home in the city of Sderot on Wednesday, and another was shot down by air defenses on Monday.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility by any of the Gaza-based terror groups for the rocket fire, though Monday’s attack was blamed on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in several media reports.

Flames and smoke rise during Israeli airstrikes in the central Gaza strip, on April 21, 2022. (Bashar Taleb/AFP)

The IDF responded to Monday’s and Wednesday’s rocket launches with air raids targeting a number of Hamas military sites in Gaza, including one used by the terror group to manufacture weapons.

The army said in its early Thursday statement that it holds Hamas responsible for what takes place in the Gaza Strip, sticking to its long-held policy of targeting posts belonging to the group in response to rocket fire, regardless of whether its fighters were behind the launches or not.

This week’s rocket attacks ended an almost four-month period of quiet on the Gaza border. Wednesday’s rocket fire came at the tail-end of a tension-filled day in Jerusalem, where Israeli nationalists were prevented by police from marching through the Old City’s Damascus Gate, a popular gathering point for Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Hamas had threatened to attack if the march went ahead.

The last few days have seen violent clashes between Palestinian rioters and police on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, leading to the injury of dozens of Palestinians and several police officers.

Palestinian clash with Israeli police at the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, on April 22, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups have repeatedly invoked the flashpoint holy site as a red line. Police actions to quell riots there last year were among the triggers of an 11-day war in Gaza last May.

The Gaza Strip has been blockaded by both Israel and Egypt for 15 years in an attempt to contain the enclave’s Hamas rulers and other groups. Israel says the tight restrictions on goods and people are necessary due to efforts by Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, to massively arm itself for attacks against the Jewish state.

Critics lament the blockade’s impact on ordinary Gazans, around 50 percent of whom are unemployed, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. The sky-high poverty rates make employment in Israel a highly attractive option for those lucky enough to receive permits.

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