Key Gaza crossing reopens as calm along border holds

Army says Kerem Shalom returned to full operations at 9 a.m,, Gazan fishing zone extended to 9 nautical miles

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

Palestinian trucks seen at the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza from Israel, in the southern Gaza Strip on July 9, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Palestinian trucks seen at the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza from Israel, in the southern Gaza Strip on July 9, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israel reopened the Kerem Shalom Crossing into Gaza and extended the Strip’s permitted fishing zone on Wednesday morning, after several days of rare calm along Israel’s restive border with the enclave.

Hundreds of trucks full of goods were expected to enter the Gaza Strip throughout the day.

The move was announced by the military Wednesday morning, a day after Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said he would ease the restrictions if calm along the border continued to hold.

“Maintaining the quiet is first and foremost in the interest of Gaza residents,” Liberman said Tuesday, after meeting with senior defense officials.

Israel closed the Kerem Shalom Crossing, the main goods crossing into the beleaguered Palestinian enclave, on July 9 to everything but food and medical equipment, following weeks of violence along the border, including arson attacks.

Israel also severely restricted the Gaza fishing zone, a significant source of revenue for the beleaguered enclave, forcing Palestinian fisherman to remain within three nautical miles (3.5 miles) of the coast.

Palestinian fishing boats are seen at the sea port in Gaza City on April 1, 2016. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

Fuel and gasoline shipments into the Strip have been allowed at some points and frozen at others, depending upon the intensity of attacks from the Strip.

The army said Wednesday morning, Kerem Shalom was returning to full operations and Gazan fishermen were allowed to travel nine nautical miles (10.4 miles) off the coast, as per orders issued by Liberman.

The crossing reopened at 9 a.m.

“Following the decision of the Minister of Defense, Mr. Avigdor Liberman, in consultation with the Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the main cargo crossing into Gaza, the Kerem Shalom crossing, will be re-opened this morning for full activity,” the army said.

“In addition, the designated fishing zone off the Gaza Strip will be expanded to nine nautical miles,” the military said.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Kamil Abu Rokon, a representative from the Shin Bet security service and other senior security officials met with the defense minister on Tuesday to discuss reopening the crossing and putting in place other economic incentives if there is an end to violence from the coast enclave, Liberman’s office said.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, center, speaks with IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, right, and other senior military officers during a visit to the Gaza Division on August 13, 2018. (Shahar Levi/Defense Ministry)

Recent months have seen regular clashes on the border, occasional barrages of rocket and mortar fire, as well as near-daily arson attacks in which kites and balloons carrying incendiary devices have been launched toward southern Israel.

Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned in these attacks since March 30, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.

This week, Israeli authorities noted a significant drop in incendiary kite and balloon attacks from the Palestinian enclave.

On Sunday evening, a spokesman for the Israeli Fire and Rescue Services said that Sunday marked the first day in several months that no fires had been caused by incendiary balloons flown from Gaza toward Israeli communities bordering the coastal enclave. However, he later said it appeared that at least one fire was started by the the arson devices.

Firefighters extinguish a blaze near the southern city of Sderot caused by an incendiary balloon launched from the Gaza Strip on July 31, 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

The Fire and Rescue Services said one fire was started on Monday in Israeli territory by an incendiary balloon. However, a security source disputed that the blaze was started by arson.

Senior Israel officials maintain the country has not agreed to a ceasefire that Hamas announced late Thursday and said went into effect at midnight. Hamas, a terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, claims the deal was mediated by Egypt and other regional players.

The apparent truce came after two days of spiraling violence that saw some of the heaviest exchanges of fire between Israel and the Gaza terrorist organization since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. During the flareup, Hamas fired over 150 rockets and mortars into southern Israel which responded with about the same number of air strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza.

A police officer inspects the damage to a construction site in the southern Israeli town of Sderot near the Gaza border following a rocket hit, on August 9, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Senior Israeli officials have said that “quiet will be met by quiet,” implying that the country is not seeking an escalation of violence, but has not openly committed to an end to hostilities. Instead, military officials hope the terror group has internalized the damage Israel can cause to its infrastructure.

Despite the apparent truce and reprieve in rocket fire, violence has continued on the border, and Israeli tanks struck two Hamas posts in the Gaza Strip Friday evening after a grenade was hurled at troops and amid intense violence during mass riots in several locations along the border.

Around 9,000 Palestinians participated in the violent weekly border protests. Some protesters rioted near the fence, threw makeshift bombs, Molotov cocktails and rocks at Israeli soldiers, and burned tires to create a smokescreen. In one incident, a grenade was thrown at Israeli troops, but caused no casualties. Several attempts were made to breach the security fence.

Palestinian protesters wave their flag as they gather during a demonstration at the Israel-Gaza border, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on August 10, 2018.(AFP PHOTO / Said KHATIB)

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said three Palestinians were killed in Friday’s violence.

Since March, there have been near-weekly, violent protests along the Israel-Gaza border organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, leading to escalations involving rockets fire on Israel and reprisal air strikes.

The deadly border clashes have seen Israeli security forces facing gunfire, grenades, Molotov cocktails, and efforts — sometimes successful — to damage or penetrate the border fence. Last month, an Israeli soldier was killed by a sniper. According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, over 150 Palestinian haves been killed in the violence. Hamas has admitted that dozens of the fatalities were its members or those belonging to other Gaza terror groups.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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