The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East urged Israel to reopen the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza on Tuesday, saying the Strip needed commerce and trade.
Nickolay Mladenov’s appeal comes a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the move in response to the wave of incendiary kites and balloons sent over from Gaza.
“I am concerned by the consequences of Israel’s decision to temporarily suspend imports and exports with the exception of basic humanitarian supplies through the Kerem Shalom crossing,” Mladenov said in a statement. “Humanitarian assistance is no substitute for commerce and trade. I urge the authorities to reverse this decision.”
Kerem Shalom, the only cargo crossing between Gaza and Israel, has been subject to a strict blockade for the past 11 years that Israel says is meant to prevent terrorist groups from bringing weapons into the Strip. Egypt also tightly controls the nearby Rafah border crossing into the Sinai.
Mladenov also called on Hamas, the terror group which controls the coastal enclave, and other Palestinian factions in Gaza to “do their part by maintaining calm, stopping incendiary kites and preventing provocations.”
The envoy said that the UN was working “with Israeli and Palestinian counterparts, as well as regional and international partners, to reduce tensions, support intra-Palestinian reconciliation and resolve all humanitarian challenges.”
He stressed that the latest development “must not divert us from this urgent course of action.”
He called on everyone to “step back” from “confrontation and escalation.”
On Monday Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called the closure of the crossing a “crime against humanity.”
He also accused the international community of being silent on “the crime of the suffocating siege on the Gaza Strip,” and called on it to take “immediate action” to end the blockade of the Strip.
The Islamic Jihad terror group said the step was a “new declaration of war” and vowed to respond.
“Once again, the government of Zionist terror announces a war on the Palestinian people by intensifying its oppressive siege that has multiplied the suffering of the Palestinian people for more than 11 years,” it said in a statement.
“We are coordinating with the factions and forces to evaluate all developments, including the occupation’s most recent measures, which we are dealing with as a new declaration of war on the Palestinian people,” Islamic Jihad added.
Earlier Monday, Netanyahu said Israel will be undertaking measures to pressure Hamas, including closing Kerem Shalom, the main commercial passageway between Israel and the coastal enclave.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said he had instructed the military “to take a number of steps” to respond to “Hamas provocations” on the border.
“We are not looking for a confrontation or for a military venture, but in the way Hamas operates, the [situation] deteriorates and [Hamas] is liable to pay the full price, a much heavier price than Operation Protective Edge,” Liberman added, referring to the 2014 war with the terror organization.
Over the past three months, weekly clashes have taken place on the Gaza border, with Israel accusing Hamas of using the demonstrations as cover to carry out attacks and attempt to breach the security fence. The “March of Return” protests have also seen Palestinians fly airborne incendiary devices toward Israeli territory, sparking hundreds of fires in southern Israel and causing millions of shekels in estimated damages.
Immediately after Netanyahu spoke, the Israel Defense Forces confirmed that Kerem Shalom would be closed to all commercial goods into and out of the Gaza Strip.
The army said humanitarian aid, notably food and medicine, would still be allowed into Gaza, but would require special permission from the military liaison to the Palestinians, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon.
According to the IDF, the idea of closing Kerem Shalom was proposed by IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and was approved by Netanyahu and Liberman.
The military said the closure would continue as long as Palestinians persist in launching incendiary kites and balloons into Israel.
The crossing has been closed a number of times in the past three months, after sustaining damage from fires set by Palestinian protesters.
In addition to closing the crossing, the army said it was prematurely ending the temporary extension to the permitted Gaza fishing zone, which had allowed fisherman to sail up to nine miles from the coast in order to take advantage of the summer fishing season.
Adam Rasgon, Raoul Wootliff and Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.