Israel to close Gaza crossings over rocket attacks

Punitive measure comes as Palestinian terrorist groups launch missiles at Israeli communities night after night

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Illustrative. Defense Ministry contractors monitor the transfer of supplies and goods into the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom Crossing on July 19, 2014. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative. Defense Ministry contractors monitor the transfer of supplies and goods into the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom Crossing on July 19, 2014. (Israel Defense Forces)

In a rare move, Israel announced on Wednesday it was closing its crossings with the Gaza Strip following a week of nearly nightly rocket attacks by terrorist groups in the Palestinian enclave.

The army said the Kerem Shalom Crossing, from which goods enter and leave the Strip, as well as the pedestrian Erez Crossing would be shuttered beginning on Thursday, in light of “security events and in accordance with security assessments.”

It was not clear when the crossings would reopen, the army said.

A military spokesperson said that in “humanitarian cases” Gaza residents may be allowed to pass through the Erez Crossing, but that this would be contingent upon approval from Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, Israel’s chief military liaison to the Palestinians, known formally as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).

Palestinians have their IDs checked at a passport control station held by the Palestinian Authority at the northern entrance of the Gaza Strip just after the Israeli-controlled Erez crossing, on November 1, 2017 (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

While the Gaza crossings are typically closed for Jewish and national holidays, it is uncommon for Israel to shut them for punitive reasons.

On Wednesday night, four rockets were fired from Gaza at southern Israel. Two of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, a third struck an open field and the fourth fell short of the border and hit a school in the Gaza Strip, according to Israeli officials.

In the past week, over a dozen rockets have been fired from Gaza. A number of them fell short, five were shot down by the Iron Dome and six struck Israel, two of them causing damage in the southern town of Sderot.

This has been the largest amount of rocket fire from the Strip since the 2014 Gaza war. According to Israeli assessments, these rockets are not being launched by Hamas, but by other terrorist groups in the Strip.

The recent increase in rocket attacks have prompted residents of southern Israel, as well as local and national politicians to call for harsher retaliations.

Before Wednesday night’s rocket fire, the Hadashot television news outlet on Wednesday reported that the Israeli military was planning to take “dramatically” more aggressive action in response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, in light of the increase in the number of launches.

The rocket that fell short on Wednesday “destroyed” an empty classroom in Beit Hanoun’s Ghazi al-Shawa public school, according to Mordechai.

#القبة_الحديدية اعترضت هذا المساء قذيفتين صاروخيتين تم اطلاقهما من #قطاع_غزة. ما لم يخبروكم هو ما حدث مع قذيفة أخرى…

Posted by ‎المنسق‎ on Wednesday, December 13, 2017

On his Arabic Facebook page, the army’s chief liaison to Palestinians wrote: “This evening Iron Dome intercepted two rocket shells launched from the Gaza strip. Residents of Gaza, unless they tell you what happened with another missile fired from Gaza, it’s important to know that the missile hit the general school of Ghazi in Beit Hanoun and destroyed a classroom room there.

“The terrorist groups in Gaza unequivocally demonstrate what we say once again: They are destroy the future of their children with their own hands. Just think what would have happened if the shell had been fired during the day when the class was full of your children.”

Earlier the Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted two rockets fired from Gaza, amid increased tensions in the south of the country following repeated attacks, the army said.

There were no reports of injuries or damage caused by the projectiles that hit Israel, but two people were treated for anxiety attacks and a man in his 30s lightly injured his leg while running to a rocket shelter, the Magen David Adom rescue service said.

An Iron Dome anti-rocket battery is deployed in central Israel, on November 14, 2017. (Jack Guez/AFP)

For over a decade, Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on Gaza, which they say is necessary to keep arms and other materials that can be used for military purposes out of the hands of Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups.

Israel allows goods to be brought into and out of Gaza on a daily basis, under heavy supervision, through the Kerem Shalom Crossing. Egypt, meanwhile, operates the Rafah Crossing into Sinai, but only opens it occasionally.

The Israel-Gaza tensions have apparently been fed by Washington’s recognition last week of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Protesting US President Donald Trump’s declaration that Jerusalem is the Israeli capital, terror group Hamas, which runs Gaza and seeks Israel’s destruction, called for a new intifada and vowed to liberate Jerusalem.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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