Israel to Re-open Gaza’s Only Commercial Crossing if Calm Persists, Defense Chief Says
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday that if the Gaza border remains quiet Israel will re-open Kerem Shalom – Gaza’s only commercial crossing – in the coming days.
"Gaza’s residents need to understand that as long there are incendiary balloons and fires as on our side, life on their side will not return to a normal routine." According to Lieberman, if the border remains quiet in the coming days Kerem Shalom will be reopened on Tuesday and fishing areas will be restored.
Haaretz reported Saturday that defense establishment will recommend that the government take measures to make life easier for Gazans and give a chance to understandings reached between Egypt and Hamas over the weekend.
Last week, Israel decided to allow no fuel to pass through its border crossing with the Gaza Strip for the week, further tightening the blockade it imposed last week in response to the daily barrage of incendiary kites. Though the Kerem Shalom crossing was closed to most merchandise the previous week, fuel, food and medicine were exempted from that decision.
Lieberman noted that Saturday "was the calmest day perhaps since March 30." He said responsibility for maintaining the calm rests with Gaza residents and the pressure they exert on the Hamas leadership. "The key is quiet, calm, zero incendiary balloons, zero border friction and zero rockets or God forbid shootings," he said. "I hope we’re in store for a quiet two days."
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Defense officials say Hamas realizes the threat of a broad military campaign by Israel that would wipe out the group’s successes since the Palestinians’ protests began at the Gaza border fence on March 30.
The Israel Defense Forces believes that the current round has ended, with the IDF’s attacks over the weekend convincing Hamas to change its thinking.
During the talks between Hamas and Egypt, Israel clarified that border incidents involving terror squads and firing at Israel would no longer be tolerated; Hamas would pay heavily if this continued.
Hamas has emerged from the clashes over the weekend with several achievements. Reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority is on the agenda again, the international community is encouraging the development of infrastructure that will relieve Gaza’s humanitarian crisis, and more importantly, Hamas remains the dominant organization in the Strip, something it realized it stood to lose in a broader round of fighting.
As part of the cease-fire understandings, Egypt gave Israel certain guarantees, and Israeli defense officials believe that their side should take confidence-building measures, especially vis-à-vis Egypt.
The IDF believes that Hamas is cooperating with Islamic Jihad and that the cease-fire covers this smaller group as well, which increases the chance of the cease-fire holding.
Based partly on contacts with mediators, the IDF believes that Hamas is starting to realize the price it is paying for the so-called March of Return at the border fence, with pressure being applied by Gaza residents as well.
The IDF believes that Hamas mistook Israel’s restraint as weakness, but the attacks over the last two weeks and messages delivered to the organization have convinced it that the IDF has changed direction and is making preparations that would allow for a broad campaign