The IDF on Tuesday will use a new mechanism to evacuate Gaza residents in need of urgent medical care to Israeli hospitals. But the government does not intend to permit hundreds of Palestinians waiting at the Erez crossing to enter Israel. The fate of the Gaza crossings will be one of the top issues on newly-appointed defense minister Ehud Barak's agenda after he takes office Tuesday, senior defense officials told The Jerusalem Post Monday. Barak will be expected to formulate Israeli policy concerning the crossings, especially the Erez crossing, where hundreds of Palestinians are waiting to be allowed into Israel, officials said.
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Soldiers and Hamas gunmen exchanged fire at the crossing Monday night. At least one Palestinian was killed, reportedly a Fatah military commander named Jihad Madhun, and more than a dozen others wounded.
Soldiers returned fire when Palestinians opened fire and threw a grenade at a nearby military outpost, the IDF said.
Abu Mujahid, a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees, said two of the group's gunmen fired at soldiers, who fired back at civilians. The IDF said the wounded Palestinians were shot by a Hamas gunman.
The IDF has created a new mechanism, in conjunction with the Red Cross, to allow Palestinians in need of urgent medical care to enter Israel, Col. Nir Press, head of the Gaza Coordination Liaison Administration, told the Post Monday. He said Israel had no intention of allowing the hundreds of Palestinians to leave Gaza.
Press said the IDF was involved in humanitarian activity while Hamas was continuing to perpetrate terrorist attacks against Israel and Palestinians civilians. A Kassam rocket struck the western Negev Monday night.
Press said the IDF was waiting for the government to devise a policy for the other crossings, particularly the Karni crossing, the main conduit into Gaza, which has been closed since violence erupted between Fatah and Hamas last week.
Also Monday, fuel and gas were transferred to Gaza through the Nahal Oz fuel depot. The Red Cross was also able to transfer medicine, blood, plasma and other medical equipment into Gaza through the Erez crossing. UNRWA restored its operations in Gaza on Sunday, but was relying on backup food stores.
Press met Monday with officials from the Red Cross and the World Food Program and agreed to open the Kerem Shalom crossing, which would be used to transfer truckloads of food and supplies into Gaza. He said the IDF would not talk to Hamas, and without any officials at Karni, would not be able to use the crossing to transfer goods into Gaza.
Defense officials said it was unlikely that the Karni crossing would reopen anytime soon. They said Israel would be open to the idea of Hamas allowing security forces loyal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to return to run the crossing. The officials also said they would consider cooperating with an international organization or a European monitoring team appointed to run the terminal for the Palestinians.
Press said there was enough food for the coming weeks and that Gaza was not close to becoming a humanitarian crisis. He said it was possible that the Palestinians would run out of milk in the coming days, but said there was enough flour and additional basic foods for the coming weeks.
"There is enough food for now," Press said. "We are in touch with international groups and we are coordinating with them about letting some trucks transfer goods and supplies into Gaza in the coming days."
Defense officials rejected Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann's call on Monday to facilitate the passage of Palestinians who want to flee Gaza into Israel. Freidmann said Israel needed to "make it easier to cross to the West Bank, so long as those crossing are not Hamas members or persons endangering [Israel's] security."
But defense officials said Israel would not open the Erez crossing out of security concerns that Palestinian terrorists would try to cross into Israel.
Tovah Lazaroff and AP contributed to the report.