Israeli Defense Chief Orders Gaza Border Crossings Reopened Following Weekend on Quelled Protests

Lieberman gives go-ahead to resumption of fuel transfers from Israel, postpones decision on transfers of diesel from Qatar ■ Israel cites 'Hamas' efforts to contain violent incidents in the strip' to explain move

The Kerem Shalom crossing at the border with Gaza, August 2018
Ilan Assayag

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday ordered the reopening of the Kerem Shalom and Erez border crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip, as well as the resumption of fuel transfers.

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A Palestinian protester hurls stones towards Israeli troops at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, Friday, Oct. 19, 2018
Khalil Hamra,AP

According to Lieberman, the decision came following a security assessment with representatives of the Israeli army, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and the Shin Bet security service following "Hamas' efforts to contain violent incidents at the end of last week."

The measures Hamas took to keep the protests under control – including, among other things, patrolling along the fence and preventing demonstrators from approaching it – has provided another incentive for these officials to support the restart the transport of fuel.

Israel's decision on whether to keep allowing diesel fuel provided by Qatar into the Gaza Strip, however, will be contingent on further assessments during the week and will be determined based on how events play out, Lieberman said.

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Lieberman ordered the halt of the transports last week until violence in Gaza, including the launching of incendiary balloons, ceased. The decision was taken against the opinions of senior members of the Israeli defense establishment.

Friday's protests included the launch of some incendiary balloons and the bruning of tires, alongside three attempts at crossing the fence into Israel.

Regardless, some defense officials insisted it was crucial to resume the provision of fuel, explaining that preventing the Qatari-funded fuel shipments from entering Gaza would have a severe effect on the humanitarian situation in the enclave.

Electricity is supplied on average for four hours a day in Gaza and over the past year, the only power plant in the Strip has had to shut down several times due to shortages of diesel fuel. It is not yet clear if the quantity of fuel that has been previously delivered will improve boost electricity supplies for Gaza residents and whether Qatar has committed to provide long-term supplies of fuel to the Hamas-controlled enclave.

It is also not clear whether the supply of the fuel is being provided with the approval of the Palestinian Authority, which was ousted from Gaza by Hamas by force in 2007.

Despite the Israeli security establishment warning against moving forward with reconciliation without Abbas' involvement, it supported the fuel transfer. This was in light of the humanitarian condition in Gaza, which was deemed too fragile to risk, with diesel fuel being essential to power vital infrastructures and electricity.