(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry closed the Erez crossing until further notice on Sunday, a day after Hamas accused Israel of assassinating a senior member of its military wing.
“The closure of the Beit Hanoun [Erez] crossing comes as a part of the steps being taken by the security apparatus following the crime of assassinating Mazen Fuqaha,” Interior Ministry spokesman Iyad Bazm said.
Nonetheless, Bazm later clarified that “humanitarian cases” will be allowed to return to the Gaza Strip. Erez is the only pedestrian crossing between Israel and Gaza.
Some 138 Gazans, including patients seeking medical treatment and their companions, were denied entry to Israel on Sunday because of the closure, World Health Organization staff in Gaza said.
Hamas security forces are also preventing Gazan fishermen from going out to sea, the official PA news site Wafa reported. There are approximately 4,000 fishermen in the Strip, most of whom depend on fishing as their primary source of income.
Fuqaha was killed in front of his home in Gaza City’s southern Tel al-Hawa neighborhood late Friday. Hours after the assassination, the Interior Ministry said the parties behind it are “unknown,” adding that the local security services opened an investigation.
Hamas, however, accused Israel of assassinating Fuqaha.
Israeli officials have not commented on the incident.
Fuqaha, who was born and raised in the West Bank city of Tubas, was a senior terrorist in the Izzadin Kassam Brigades in the West Bank, which carried out a number of suicide bombings against Israel during the second intifada.
An Israeli court sentenced Fuqaha to life plus 50 years in prison for planning a suicide bombing on a bus at the Meron junction near Safed in August 2002, which killed nine people and wounded 38 others.
Israel released Fuqaha in 2011 in the Gilad Schalit prisoner swap, but barred him from returning to the West Bank.
There are three checkpoints along the Erez crossing: an Israeli checkpoint, a Palestinian Authority checkpoint and a Hamas checkpoint.
If one of the checkpoints stops working, no one can pass through.
According to the PA Civil Affairs Ministry, Sunday’s closure is the first time Hamas has closed the crossing since taking over the coastal territory in 2007. The ministry declined to comment on the closure.
Israel has closed the crossing on many occasions in the past following rocket attacks on the South.
Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.- Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who is responsible for coordinating the movement of Palestinians, described the closure as “arbitrary and unilateral” and “harmful to Palestinian merchants and others.”
Mordechai also accused Hamas of “imposing a siege on Gaza.”
Gisha, an Israeli NGO that advocates for freedom of movement for Palestinians, sharply criticized the closure.
“Movement of people into and out of Gaza is severely restricted as it is. Further denying access infringes on fundamental rights, such as access to medical treatment, family and livelihood,” Gisha said. “[Movement should] not be restricted on the pretense of vague security justifications.”
WHO staff in Gaza sent a formal letter to the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry, calling on it to intervene on behalf of the Gazans seeking medical care in Israel.
“We believe that people should be able to access medical care in any circumstance,” a WHO official in Gaza said.