Palestinian Factions Slam Israel After Gaza Border Crossings Open: Doesn't Ease Blockade

Reopening the crossings is just a return to the situation before last week's escalation and is 'not significant in terms of citizens or merchants who want access to the outside world'

Israeli forces at the Gaza Border, March 30, 2019.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Palestinian factions in Gaza are waiting to see if the reported progress on reaching an understanding with Israel will improve the situation in the Strip - but do not consider Israel’s reopening of the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings as easing the blockade, a senior member of one of the factions told Haaretz on Sunday.

The official, who is a member of the organizing committee for the March of Return protests in Gaza, said that reopening the crossings is just a return to the situation before last week's escalation and is "not significant in terms of citizens or merchants who want access to the outside world."

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Israel was also expected to reopen fishing areas off the coast of Gaza Sunday morning. However, a representative of the fisherman said that the ban imposed last week after a rocket was fired at Mishmeret, north of Tel Aviv, will be lifted Monday at 6am. The fishing area will also be extended.

Another rocket was launched from the Strip on Sunday but landed inside Gaza. 

The Egyptian security delegation left Gaza on Sunday morning via the Erez crossing for talks with senior Israeli officials. According to Hamas sources, the delegation arrived in Gaza Friday and attended this weekend's demonstrations along the border to observe the conduct of Hamas and other factions.

According to a senior member of one of the factions, the delegation is expect to return to Gaza either Sunday or Monday to help implement the understandings reached with the Israeli government.

The Palestinian factions, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in particular, are trying to convey optimism following Saturday's demonstrations at the border. The two organizations threatened a harsh response to casualties at the fence, but showed restraint despite the deaths of four people and hundreds wounded, including 20 who remain in critical condition.

A human rights activist who attended Saturday's protests told Haaretz that the five rockets fired toward border communities in southern Israel overnight Saturday may have been retaliation for those killed during the demonstrations. However another activist said that the factions, especially Hamas and Islamic Jihad, eschewed any response that would lead to another escalation.

A member of Hamas' political bureau, Husam Badran, said in a television interview on Saturday night that Hamas and other factions had reached an understanding with Israel on a package deal that would improve Gazan's daily lives. "If there is a breach or foot-dragging, the forces of the resistance will respond accordingly,” he said.

According to Badran, in the coming days the Egyptians will continue with meetings and mediation to reach an agreement and a timetable for its implementation. "We are not discussing commitments made by the Israelis alone, but also international involvement of the United Nations, Egypt and Qatar, which all have a significant role in implementing the agreement," Badran said. He added that the monthly infusions of Qatari money have directly benefitted almost every household in the Gaza Strip.

Badran said that the Egypt, independent of agreements with Israel, had eased restrictions at the Rafah crossing regarding the entry of goods into the Strip.

“We would not have reached these understandings without the heroic stand of the Palestinian people, the Egyptian diplomatic and political involvement and the serious support of Qatar,” he said.

Hamas spokespeople are attempting to present their achievements as benefitting all the Strip's residents, not just Hamas. The organization is emphasizing access to electricity, medical care, humanitarian aid and job creation through programs that encourage employment. Hamas has also stressed advancing projects such as desalination and the entry of raw materials for industry and commerce.