Hamas Closes Gaza Crossing With Israel After Killing of Senior Militant

Hamas suspects collaborators with Israel of assassination, but closure does not affect goods entering Gaza.

Senior Hamas leaders at Mazen Fuqaha's funeral in Gaza on March 25, 2017.
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP

Hamas closed its side of the Erez crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel on Sunday until further notice, an unusual move on the part of the organization. The Hamas Interior Ministry in Gaza announced the closure was due to the killing of a senior official in its military wing, Mazen Fuqaha, on Friday in Gaza.

The closure of the crossing, controlled by Hamas on the Gaza side, will prevent Palestinians from Gaza entering Israel or returning. It is expected to affect those Gazans who use the crossing, such as students, business people and traders, as well as those who receive medical treatment in Israel and the West Bank. Goods will continue to enter the Gaza Strip through another crossing point, which will not be affected by the closure.

"The closure is being implemented as part of the steps taken by Hamas security forces as a result of the crime of the assassination of Mazen Fuqaha," the spokesman of the Interior Ministry said in a post on his official Facebook page.

The move does not affect Israel or its security forces, which has not changed its operation of the crossing in any way.  

It seems Hamas suspects that collaborators with Israel carried out, or aided in the killing, and as a result Hamas is conducting an evaluation of the security measures concerning those entering and leaving the Gaza Strip.

Over the weekend, the Hamas Interior Ministry released a statement saying that Fuqaha, who was released from an Israeli prison as part of a prisoner exchange deal to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011, was shot and killed by unknown gunmen. Senior Hamas officials blamed Israel for the killing.

Fuqaha was considered one of the senior Hamas commanders remotely running the organization's terrorist cells in the West Bank. Senior leaders from Hamas and the Islamic Jihad called to take revenge for his death, and the Hamas military wing released a statement in which they promised to "respond to the assassination with an operation appropriate to his position."

Despite the threats, the Israel Defense Forces did not issue any special instructions on Saturday to Israeli residents living near the border with Gaza, and local residents said they saw no unusual traffic or military preparations. It seems the IDF has instructed its forces to avoid any unnecessary exposure near the border with the Gaza Strip.

A statement by the Interior Ministry in Gaza said Fuqaha was gunned down in the southern Gaza City neighborhood of Tel al-Hawa, near the Mediterranean Sea. The gunmen were equipped with silencers, the statement said. Fuqaha was shot in the head four times, said a police spokesman in Gaza. The chief prosecutor in Gaza said the motive behind the killing was not criminal in nature, and that the "fingerprints of the Mossad are clear."

Mushir al-Masri, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, said the signs point to the Mossad, and that the incident is "similar to previous assassinations against the resistance forces."

Khalil al-Hayya, a deputy to newly appointed Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, accused Israel of the killing. Fuqaha had no enemies and Israel is the only one who benefits from his death, said Hayya. Hamas will respond appropriately and Israel will bear responsibility as the results of its actions, he added.