Israel reopens Gaza Strip crossings

Around 80 trucks expected to cross during the day; Palestinian gunmen fire shells Saturday evening.

Mahmoud Zahar 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Mahmoud Zahar 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel reopened its border crossings with the Gaza Strip on Sunday to allow a trickle of goods into the territory, putting a rocky cease-fire back on course after Palestinian rocket fire last week led to a closure of the passages. The Sufa cargo crossing was open Sunday morning and around 80 trucks were expected to cross during the day, said Ziad al-Zaza, the national economy minister in Gaza's Hamas government. More were expected to go through Monday, he said. Shortly after Israel decided to open the crossings on Saturday night, several mortar shells were fired by Palestinian gunmen at the Karni Crossing area. It was unclear whether the shells landed in Israeli territory or fell short of the perimeter fence. There were no reports of wounded or damage. Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i, in consultation with defense chiefs, decided to allow 80 truckloads of food to cross from Israel to Gaza on Sunday. The crossings, including Karni, had been closed since Tuesday after Palestinians violated the Gaza cease-fire by shooting Kassam rockets at the western Negev. A mortar attack on Israel Friday prompted Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip to issue new warnings to Palestinian armed groups there against violating the cease-fire with Israel and threatening to arrest anyone who does not abide by it. This is the first time Hamas has threatened to arrest Gazans who fire rockets at Israel. The threat is seen as a sign of Hamas's keenness to preserve the cease-fire and show that it is capable of enforcing its will on all the factions in the Strip. Terrorists fired two mortar shells at Israel from northern Gaza on Friday, marking the end of a week marred by cease-fire breaches. One shell hit near Kibbutz Kfar Aza while the second slammed into an uninhabited area. No injuries or damages were reported. Sources in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post that Hamas's security forces arrested five Fatah militiamen Friday on suspicion of firing three rockets at Israel last week. The men were arrested in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza, the sources said, noting that Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, had claimed responsibility for the attacks. Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas official, said his movement's position regarding the violations committed by Fatah and Islamic Jihad was "clear." He said representatives of Fatah and Islamic Jihad had been summoned to meetings with Hamas officials who warned them against breaching the agreement. "Some elements were working secretly to foil the [cease-fire] agreement," Zahar told reporters. "They don't want this agreement to succeed because they are working against the national interests of our people." Zahar also said some Palestinian "collaborators" and unruly factions were behind the attempts to foil the truce. He said that his movement had made it clear that anyone who violated the agreement would be arrested. "We have reached an agreement with Islamic Jihad that anyone, even if he's from Hamas, would be arrested and disarmed if he violates the agreement," he said. "Those who violate the agreement will be accused of sabotaging the national program." Asked if he is not concerned that Hamas would be accused of serving Israel by arresting rocket-launchers, Zahar said: "Whoever makes such an allegation does not understand anything and is himself a collaborator with Israel. This agreement was reached on the basis of national consensus." Zahar revealed that Hamas has already arrested a number of Palestinians who fired mortars and rockets at the border crossings to the Gaza Strip or trucks supplying fuel. He also said some Gazan clans had handed over their sons who were accused of violating the truce and "harming the national interests of the Palestinians." Hamas's Interior Minister, Said Siam, summoned representatives of Palestinian armed groups to an urgent meeting at his home on Friday night where he warned them against breaching the cease-fire. "All those who accepted the agreement must now honor it," he said after the meeting. "Anyone who acts otherwise will be held responsible and will be seen as serving the interests of Israel." Israel did not respond militarily to the mortars over the weekend, choosing instead to keep Gaza border crossings closed, as it had done throughout the previous week. Kfar Aza has come under frequent mortar attacks in recent weeks. Meanwhile, in the West Bank, Palestinian sources said a 17-year-old boy was shot dead by IDF soldiers in Beit Omar, north of Hebron. The IDF said soldiers opened fire after identifying a group of youths throwing Molotov cocktails at motorists on Highway 60. The latest incident came after IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) men shot dead a senior Islamic Jihad figure and a lower-ranking member of the organization on Tuesday. AP and Staff contributed to this report