Israel to Partially Reopen Gaza's Only Commercial Crossing

Defense chief Lieberman says returning of crossing to full activity is conditioned on a full cessation of airborne firebombs, border provocations

The Kerem Shalom border crossing with Gaza, July 22, 2018.
\ Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Israel will partially reopen the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Gaza, the Strip's only passage, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on a statement on Tuesday.

A statement by the Defense Ministry said that the crossing will only be partially opened because Hamas "has not put a complete end to terrorism, but is trying to maintain a low level of incendiary balloon launches and friction on the border fence."

The returning of Kerem Shalom to full activity, the statement said, is conditioned on a full cessation of airborne firebombs and provocations on the border. 

The announcement by Lieberman to allow allowing an increased flow of merchandise into Gaza from Israel through the Kerem Shalom border crossing from Israel into the Gaza Strip took Israeli defense officials by surprise. They had expected that, following two days of quiet on the border, it was already appropriate to increase the follow of merchandise at the border immediately, beyond the current humanitarian supplies.

On Monday, 118 trucks entered Gaza at Kerem Shalom, the lowest number since the 2014 between Israel and Hamas and its allies in Gaza. Israel last week closed the crossing for goods, allowing only humanitarian supplies into Gaza.

Defense officials ealier said they expected Lieberman to order an easing of the movement of merchandise at the border crossing, and that a substantial increase in truck traffic into the coastal enclave should be seen in two days -- on Thursday – in light of the fact that approval for the shipment of goods into the strip is a two-day process.

On Sunday, Lieberman said the crossing would be open on Tuesday if quiet was maintained by then along the border, following months of mass demonstrations by Gazans along the Israeli border followed more recently by the launching of incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza toward Israel. On a tour on Sunday of Kerem Shalom, the defense minister noted that the day before was perhaps the quietest since March 30, when the mass demonstrations on the border began.

"My message to the residents of Gaza is therefore responsibility, and the key in part is the pressure that you, the Gaza residents, apply on the Hamas leadership," Lieberman said. If the quiet is maintained, "we will return life to normal," he declared, and Israel would also restore the fishing zone available to Gaza fisherman, which Israel further restricted recently.

"The key is quiet – calm, no incendiary balloons, no friction along the border, and no rockets, or heaven forbid, [weapons] fire. I hope that we have two days of calm ahead of us," he said. Asked if Israel would agree to allow laborers from Gaza into Israel to work, Lieberman said: "we are far from that."

Regarding the steps that Israel is taking to assist Gaza's residents, he said: "Despite the blazes and the fires, we still continue to ship food and medicine [into Gaza]. We cannot go beyond that, and as I said regarding the [shipment of] merchandise, goods, agricultural products, textiles, all of these thing [will be allowed in] only if total quiet is maintained on our side, without balloons, kites or provocations."

On Monday, the electric utility in Gaza announced that the Gaza population would go without power 18 hours a day instead of 16 hours. Electricity supply in Gaza is now reliant on six power lines from Israel, one of which has been out of commission for a week, as well as power supplied by Egypt. "We are trying to supply a minimal level of four hours a day of electricity to Gaza residents," said Mohammed Tabet, a spokesman for the Gaza electric utility, "but that too is in doubt, so the duration of the cut will extend beyond 16 hours a day."