TEL AVIV – Israel reopened the Kerem Shalom crossing with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, amid efforts to broker a ceasefire with Gaza’s rulers, the Islamist Hamas group, Israeli officials said Wednesday.
Closing the crossing to fuel imports and commercial goods trade has endangered the functioning of hospitals, water and sanitation facilities, according to the UN, while tens of thousands of Palestinians have lost their jobs as industrial production ground to a halt.
The army said the crossing is now open for “full activity.”
An Israeli official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that Egypt and the United Nations brokered “understandings” to reach a calm after two days of cross border fighting with Hamas last week, which led to the re-opening of the crossing.
“As long as this commitment is maintained humanitarian issues and the return of our sons [POWs] and our citizens can be handled,” the official said.
Two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers are presumed to be held by Hamas in Gaza.
No “real arrangement” will be reached with Hamas without the return of the Israelis, the official added.
Hamas is demanding that Israel lift a 11-year blocked of the Gaza Strip in return for a ceasefire, while Israel is demanding – along with the return of the captured Israelis – that Hamas cease firing rockets, incendiary balloons and staging protests along the border.
A Gaza fishing zone, a key source of income for a few thousand fishermen, will return to nine nautical miles after being restricted to six miles as part of the extra controls, the army added.
Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Wednesday that he decided to ease the restrictions “as a clear message to residents of the Gaza Strip: Quiet pays and violence does not pay.”
Kerem Shalom has remained closed to commercial imports and exports for more than a month. Israel has also intermittently restricted gas imports, in an effort to pressure Hamas to stop both a wave on incendiary balloons launched at Israel, as well as rocket attacks.
Israel has allowed humanitarian aid through the crossing.
The move comes after two days last week of cross-border fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants led by Hamas.
Israel, along with Egypt, has blocked the Gaza Strip – home to some 2 million people – since Hamas seized power in 2007. Israel cites security reasons for the blockade while the UN and human rights groups have criticized the blockade as collective punishment. -DPA