Israel reopened its sole pedestrian crossing with the Gaza Strip on Thursday after closing it two weeks ago in response to rioting on the border.
The Erez Crossing in the northern part of the Strip reopened despite ongoing riots and violence on the border since its closure.
The IDF’s coordinator for the Palestinian territories announced the reopening on Wednesday, saying, “Continuation of the civil measures will be possible in accordance with security assessments and with the preservation of stable security.”
The closure of the crossing affects 17,000 Gazans who have permits to enter Israel for work. The Strip’s economy is badly harmed by the laborers being barred entry to Israel.
The crossing is expected to temporarily close again this weekend due to the Sukkot holiday.
Also Wednesday, Defense Ministry Yoav Gallant said Israel was prepared to step up actions against Gaza as unrest on the border continued.
“We don’t want an escalation [in fighting] and are not looking for a fight, but if we get to the point where we need to act, let Operation Shield and Arrow be a reminder for all terror groups about the capabilities of [Israel’s] security apparatus,” Gallant said at a memorial marking 50 years since the Yom Kippur war.
Shield and Arrow was an Israeli offensive targeting the Islamic Jihad terror group in Gaza which lasted five days in May and saw a number of leaders of the group killed.
“If Israeli civilians or soldiers are harmed, we will not hesitate to use everything in our power to ensure the safety of civilians and bring quiet back to the border,” Gallant said.
The protests involve Palestinians throwing stones and explosive devices, burning tires and, according to the Israeli military, shooting at Israeli soldiers.
Hamas, the terror group that seized control of Gaza in 2007, has said that young Palestinians have organized the protests in response to surging violence in the West Bank and alleged provocations in Jerusalem.
In recent days, Palestinians have also floated incendiary kites and balloons across the border into southern Israel, setting fire to farmland and unnerving Israeli civilian communities close to Gaza.
Two fires broke out in the Be’eri forest on the border on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Israeli airstrikes hit several targets in Gaza in response to the riots.
The unrest first erupted earlier this month, shortly after Hamas’ Finance Ministry announced it was slashing the salaries of civil servants by more than half, deepening a financial crisis in the enclave that has staggered under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade for the past 16 years.
The sudden violence at the security fence has stoked fears of a wider escalation between Israel and Hamas, which have fought four wars and engaged in numerous smaller battles since Hamas took over the territory.
But experts said that the violent protests — which have persisted with Hamas’ tacit consent for nearly two weeks now — have more to do with Hamas’ efforts to manage the territory and halt its spiraling economic crisis than draw Israel into a new round of conflict.
“It’s a tactical way of generating attention about their distress,” Ibrahim Dalalsha, director of the Horizon Center, a Palestinian research group based in the West Bank, said of Hamas. “It’s not an escalation but ‘warming up’ to put pressure on relevant parties that can come up with money to give to the Hamas government.”
Under arrangements stemming from past ceasefire understandings with Israel, the gas-rich emirate of Qatar pays the salaries of civil servants in the Gaza Strip, provides direct cash transfers to poor families and offers other kinds of humanitarian aid.
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said Saturday that it had begun the distribution of $100 cash transfers to some 100,000 needy families in the impoverished territory. Disbursements for civil servants’ salaries have suffered delays since May.