Israel reopens Gaza crossings amid border protests

Israel reopens Gaza crossings amid border protests
The Erez crossing for people and the Kerem Shalom crossing for goods reopened on Sunday morning, according to a spokeswoman for COGAT.

3 min read
31 March, 2019
The Erez border crossing was closed for a week after a rocket strike [Getty]
Israel reopened its crossings with the blockaded Gaza Strip on Sunday after having kept them closed for nearly a week following a rare long-distance rocket strike from the Palestinian enclave, an official said.

The Erez crossing for people and the Kerem Shalom crossing for goods reopened on Sunday morning, a spokeswoman for COGAT, the defence ministry unit that oversees the crossings, told AFP.

They were closed on Monday after the rocket fire that wounded seven Israelis and led to Israeli retaliatory strikes across the Gaza Strip, another serious flare-up between the two sides.

Hamas announced an Egyptian-brokered truce that ended the exchange of fire.

The reopening also comes after tens of thousands of Palestinians protested along the Gaza border with Israel on Saturday, marking the one-year anniversary since demonstrations and clashes erupted there.

Four Palestinians were killed on Saturday during protests and clashes, but unrest was limited and fears of mass bloodshed were averted after Egyptian-led negotiations.

One was killed during a demonstration ahead of the main rally and three 17-year-olds in clashes later on Saturday, authorities in Gaza said, noting another 316 Gazans were wounded.

Five rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip at Israel overnight, leading Israeli tanks to fire on Hamas military posts. No casualties were reported from either the rockets or tank fire.

Hamas officials say an understanding was reached that would see Israel ease its crippling blockade of Gaza in exchange for the protests remaining calm.

Israel has not commented on the claims of an agreement.

Year of protests

Israel goes to the polls in a keenly contested general election on April 9 in which Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu faces a stiff challenge from centrist former military chief Benny Gantz.

He is widely seen as wanting to avoid a major escalation before the polls, but has faced accusations from political opponents of being soft on Hamas.

Netanyahu's threats

On Sunday, while welcoming Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for a three-day visit, Netanyahu again said Israel was prepared for a major operation in the Gaza Strip if necessary.

"You arrive in Israel in a tense period, and so I gave the order to leave military forces in full deployment around the Gaza Strip," Netanyahu said during a ceremony at the airport.

"This includes tanks, artillery, ground forces and air forces. We are prepared for every scenario, and if needed, also for a wide campaign."

The year of demonstrations and clashes along the Gaza border are calling for Palestinians to be allowed to return to land their families fled or were expelled from during the 1948 war that accompanied Israel's creation.

Israel says any such mass return would spell the end of a Jewish state and that its actions have been necessary to defend the border and stop infiltrations and attacks.

Around 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire during the protests and clashes. At least 50 Palestinian children have been killed in Gaza since the protests began, charity Save the Children said.

One Israeli soldier has been killed by a Palestinian sniper along the border. 

Israeli military's use of live fire has come under heavy criticism.

In February, a United Nations probe said Israeli soldiers had intentionally fired on civilians in what could constitute war crimes.

Two million Palestinians live in impoverished Gaza, crammed between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean.

The UN says more than 90 percent of the water is unsafe for drinking and residents receive less than 12 hours of mains electricity a day.

Analysts highlight desperate living conditions and lack of freedom of movement as driving forces behind the protests.

Israel, which has fought three wars with Hamas, has blockaded the enclave for more than a decade, and Egypt often closes Gaza's only other gateway to the outside world.

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