Southern residents blocked trucks carrying goods and fuel from entering Gaza Sunday morning, in the wake of protests at the border on Friday and after a Palestinian man breached the Gaza border fence on Friday and infiltrated several hundred meters into Israel, setting fire to a greenhouse in one of the communities near the border before being caught.
There was heavy traffic in the area as the activists blocked the Route 232 highway, an Eshkol regional council spokesperson said.
Also on Sunday morning, the head of the IDF Gaza Division, Brig. Gen. Eliezer Toledano, met with the head of the Netiv Ha’asara community, where the greenhouse was burned, the army said.
The Kerem Shalom Crossing is used to bring fuel and goods into the coastal enclave.
Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza since Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, seized the territory from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority in 2007. It says the blockade is in place in order to prevent weapons and other military equipment from entering the Strip.
Critics point to worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza and say the blockade amounts to collective punishment of the two million Palestinians living there.
There have been many reports that the coastal strip is “on the verge of collapsing,” and could plunge into a new round of fighting with Israel if conditions do not improve. The army has sought to keep goods flowing into Gaza in a bid to ease tensions.
Since mid-May, after five years in which the crossing was largely closed, Egyptian authorities have opened the crossing on their side several days a week.
The army, in its probe into the infiltration incident, said IDF surveillance had “identified the suspect near the border fence in the northern Gaza Strip before he crossed over, and continued to track him throughout the incident. Following the identification large military forces were rushed to the area and operated in cooperation with civilian security forces. The forces surrounded the area where the suspect was identified.”
It said the suspect moved 500 meters into Israeli territory and that troops arrested him near a greenhouse at the edge of the farmland, about a kilometer from the community.
Residents disputed the army’s account, telling Hadashot TV news that the suspect had come as close as a few dozen meters from homes.
The Kan public broadcaster, meanwhile, reported that the suspect had crossed into Israel numerous times in the past, and may have been seeking to get arrested.
The infiltration came during protests along the border in which some 12,000 Gazans participated.
Reports said Palestinians threw several explosive devices at IDF soldiers and two men tried to breach the border before retreating. The army responded with tear gas and riot dispersal means. At least one Palestinian was killed and 37 Palestinians wounded, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said.
Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in near-daily Hamas-led protests and riots that have mostly involved the burning of tires and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks and bombings as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel.
Flareups in violence have also seen the launching of hundreds of rockets and mortars at the Israeli communities bordering the Strip.
Over 150 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. An Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border earlier this year.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.