Full opening requires full halt to arson, says Liberman

Israel partially reopens Gaza crossing amid reduction in fire balloon attacks

Gas and fuel being allowed into the Strip through Kerem Shalom, along with food and medicine, but commercial goods still blocked

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

Palestinian trucks seen at the Kerem Shalom crossing on March 22, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinian trucks seen at the Kerem Shalom crossing on March 22, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The main goods crossing from Israel into the Gaza Strip was partially reopened on Tuesday, after Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced the move as attacks from the coastal enclave have largely, but not fully, subsided in recent days.

Beginning at noon on Tuesday, gasoline and diesel fuel were being allowed through the Kerem Shalom Crossing for the first time in over a week, along with the food and medical supplies that have entered Gaza daily since the crossing was closed, according to Liberman’s office.

“The minister’s decision came from the fact that Hamas has not completely stopped its terrorist activities, but has tried to keep them at a low level of incendiary balloon launches and clashes on the border, with known Hamas members responsible for it,” his office said in a statement Tuesday morning.

The minister said the crossing will only be fully reopened once the violence along the border ends completely.

“The crossing’s activities will be reviewed in the coming days in accordance with a decrease in the terror activities and provocations. The return of the Kerem Shalom Crossing to full operation is dependent upon a total end to the balloon launches and clashes on the border,” his office said.

Trucks are seen at the gate of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza, in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, on July 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

On July 9, Israel closed the crossing as a punitive measure for ongoing violence from Gaza, mostly in the form of constant airborne arson attacks via kites and balloons bearing incendiary devices, regular riots along the security fence and occasional mortar and rocket fire.

Initially, only food, medical supplies and fuel were allowed through. On July 16, Israel further limited the transfer of goods through the crossing, halting the flow of gas and diesel fuel into the Strip, sparking concerns that the move could have a severe impact on the coastal enclave’s already-strained hospitals.

The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that the two countries say is meant to prevent the ruling Hamas terror group from smuggling weapons into the Strip, as it has often attempted to do.

Liberman announced on Sunday that Israel would reopen the crossing on Tuesday if the violence from the Gaza Strip ended.

Defense Minsiter Avigdor Liberman visits the Kerem Shalom Crossing on July 22, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“Yesterday was one of the calmest days, perhaps, since March 30,” Liberman said, during a visit to the Kerem Shalom Crossing. “If that situation continues today and tomorrow as it was yesterday, then on Tuesday we will revive the regular procedures and also expand the fishing zone to what it was before.”

Though there has been a significant decrease in the number of incendiary balloons launched at Israel since Friday night, when Hamas reportedly agreed to a ceasefire, the practice has continued.

On Monday, an Israeli aircraft shot at a group of Gazans flying incendiary balloons into southern Israel from the northern Strip, east of the city of Jabaliya, according to the military and Palestinian reports. There were no injuries immediately reported.

On Sunday evening, an Israeli aircraft also fired at a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons into southern Israel from the northern Gaza Strip, the army said. The Hamas-run Gazan health ministry said two people were injured in the strike. It listed the injuries as light to moderate.

IDF tanks also struck a pair of observation posts on Saturday in response to an attempt to breach the border and an incendiary balloon launch.

In recent days, Liberman and other Israeli officials have signaled that Israel is prepared to go to war in order to stop the day-to-day violence along the Gaza border.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, center, meets with the IDF’s top generals in the military’s Tel Aviv headquarters, the Kirya, on July 23, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“Is the State of Israel interested in a war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip? The answer is no. Are we deterred from [starting] a campaign in the Gaza Strip? Here too, the answer is no,” Liberman told the army’s top brass on Monday.

The defense minister claimed Israel had “done everything in order to prevent a war in the Gaza Strip.”

“Anything that happens going forward in the Gaza Strip is the sole responsibility of the Hamas leadership,” he said.

Since March 30, southern Israel has experienced many fires as a result of incendiary kites and balloons. Over 7,000 acres of land has been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.

The reported ceasefire with Hamas was reached after the IDF pounded dozens of Hamas targets on Friday night in response to a sniper attack on the border earlier in the evening, in which a soldier was killed.

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