Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced Saturday the closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel to the Gaza Strip due to arson caused by Palestinian protesters along the border.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, the crossing will be closed except for humanitarian cases that will be approved on an individual basis. The crossing, the only one through which cargo passes from Israel to Gaza, will stay closed until the damage caused by the arson is repaired.
Palestinians protesting along the border Friday set fire to a pipeline through which Israel supplies gas and fuel to Gaza and a conveyor belt near the crossing, causing millions of shekels in damages. The cost of the pipe is 10 million shekels and that of the conveyer belt 23 million shekels.
This is the second consecutive week that demonstrators have set fire to the Palestinian side of the crossing.
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The organizing committee of the protests condemned Kerem Shalom's closure as collective punishment and warned of the possible implications of the decision. The committee also criticized protesters who damaged infrastructure on the Palestinian side of the border.
“We have seen and are surprised by the unfortunate and unintended incident at the Kerem Shalom crossing,” a statement by the committee said. “While we see Israel as responsible for the killing and injuring of thousands of Palestinians since the beginning of the marches, we still insist that the marches remain popular and non-violent.”
While Kerem Shalom crossing is the only crossing through which cargo passes from Israel to Gaza, activity at the crossing has decreased significantly over the past year.
Until a year ago, about 1,200 trucks passed through the crossing on a daily basis, and unloaded merchandise. In the past year, the number of cargo passing has dropped from 500-400, and on some days, it's down to 300. Most of the supplies passing through the crossing is deemed essential. The drop in activity is indicative of the limited purchasing power of Gazans in light of the difficult economic situation.
Besides Kerem Shalom there are two other crossings whose use is limited. The Erez crossing is used for people only, to a limited extent and from time to time new cars also pass through it to Gaza. The Rafah crossing, on the border with Egypt, opens from time to time to allow the passage of goods and construction materials.
'Brutal American move'
A senior army source warned that the upcoming demonstrations will be significantly more violent than those on the Gaza border in recent weeks. The IDF estimates that there will be 17 active protest centers in Gaza and has stationed 11 battalions along the fence. Forces in the West Bank will be significantly reinforced as well.
The organizers of the protests have told the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank to take part in both demonstrations. They expect protest marches in Ramallah and throughout the West Bank to head toward checkpoints. Protests are also expected to take place in Jerusalem.
“We will call out against the U.S. policy that backs the occupation and the settlements of the Israeli government, and the elimination of the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state whose capital is East Jerusalem in the 1967 boundaries," Mohammed Barakeh, the chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, said.
"This brutal American move and the whole ‘deal of the century’ will not wipe out the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, by right and not by charity from Israel or the United States,” Barakeh added.