Israel Shuts Gaza Crossing After Rockets, but Wants to Leverage Work Permits to Keep Hamas in Check

The closure blocks thousands of Gazan workers from entering Israel, a move the army hopes will put pressure on Hamas to avoid escalation

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A police officer stands guard at the Palestinian Authority side of the Erez crossing, in the northern Gaza Strip, on Saturday.
A police officer stands guard at the Palestinian Authority side of the Erez crossing, in the northern Gaza Strip, on Saturday.Credit: Mahmud Hams / AFP

Israel shut on Sunday its border crossing with the Gaza Strip, blocking about 12,000 Gazan workers from entering Israel, in a bid to generate internal pressure on Hamas following two rocket launches from the Strip into Israel over the weekend.

The Israeli military announced the Erez crossing would be closed Sunday, and a decision on reopening it will depend on a later security assessment.

Defense officials hold that at this stage, with all sides trying to avoid escalation, civilian pressure on Hamas will be more effective than airstrikes in light of the significant contribution to the Strip's economy made by Gazans who earn wages in Israel.

A rocket being fired from the Gaza Strip during the war last May.

Combatants for Peace, an Israeli-Palestinian NGO, called on Israel to overturn its decision to close the border crossing, adding that "the security establishment is once again choosing to financially harm innocent civilians. There is no reason to take the last remaining livelihood from workers who receive pennies from their jobs in Israel."

However, Israel Defense Forces officials stated that they want to bring Gazans back into Israel to work as soon as possible. A senior official who spoke with Haaretz on condition of anonymity claimed that the entry of high-wage workers into Israel has become the most significant stabilizing factor in the Strip, and that there is no intention of extending the prohibition.

The weekend's two rocket launches were preceded by Hamas operations to arrest the individuals behind the latest launches. Israel and Hamas sent each other messages through mediators, with each side expressing an interest in avoiding a wider conflict and Hamas saying it is taking active measures to calm the situation. Hamas also asked Israel to show restraint.

The launch of an unspecified projectile from Gaza Saturday did not trigger Israel's rocket siren system. Earlier on Friday, two rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel, with both exploding inside the enclave.

According to the Israeli army, one rocket fell in an open area near the Gaza border fence and the second deeper inside the enclave, but did not trigger rocket sirens in Israel's south.

Although intelligence assessments indicate that Hamas is not interested in an escalation in Gaza, the IDF is preparing for the possibility. Deployments have been reinforced in specific positions, including in the air defense system and intelligence.

Over the coming week – the last week of the month of Ramadan, which ends May 1 – Hamas will try to score gains at the Temple Mount and in the West Bank, a senior Israeli defense official said. The security situation in the Strip and in Israeli border communities will be affected by the organization's actions there, according to the official.

Palestinians at the Erez border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, last week.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Also on Friday, Israel Police used a drone to fire tear gas grenades at the Temple Mount to quell rioting following afternoon prayers which were attended by thousands of Palestinian worshipers.

The Temple Mount, located in Jerusalem's Old City, is the holiest site for Jews and the third-holiest site in Islam. It has long been a flash point for Israeli-Palestinian violence.

According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, 57 Palestinians were wounded and treated at the scene, 26 of which were suffering from gas inhalation. Fourteen Palestinians were evacuated to hospitals — 12 in moderate condition and two in serious condition.

On Thursday, Israeli jets struck the Gaza Strip after militants fired rockets at an Israeli border city the day before and Jerusalem remained on edge after a far-right Israeli march. The Israeli army deemed the strikes the "most significant" attack on the enclave since the war in May of last year.

The rocket had fallen Wednesday in an open area in the southern Israeli city of Sderot and the shrapnel damaged a home. In response, Israel said it attacked an underground facility used to manufacture rockets.

On Monday, four months of quiet between Israel and Hamas was shattered after rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israeli border towns, and Israeli jets bombed the enclave.

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