JERUSALEM: Israel closed its only crossing for people with the Gaza Strip on Sunday except for humanitarian cases after weekend border clashes, the latest tightening of its blockade on the Palestinian enclave despite truce efforts.
The move could prevent Gazans from travelling via the crossing for this week’s Muslim holiday of Eidul Azha, which runs from Monday night until Thursday night, but Israeli officials did not say how long the closure would last.
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the closure of the Erez crossing was due to “violent incidents on the border last Friday”.
The Palestinian Authority civilian affairs office in the Gaza Strip also confirmed the closure except for medical cases and Palestinians seeking to cross back into the enclave.
Border protests and clashes on Friday saw two Palestinians killed by Israeli gunfire. Israel’s army said firebombs and improvised explosive devices were also hurled at the border fence, while a number of Palestinians briefly crossed into Israeli territory. No Israelis were reported wounded.
Israel has enforced an air, land and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip for more than a decade, but grants permission to a limited number of people to cross for various reasons.
Israel had just last week reopened its only goods crossing with Gaza after closing it to most deliveries for more than a month over border tensions.
Gaza’s only other border is with Egypt but the Rafah crossing with the enclave had largely been kept closed in recent years. Cairo opened it in mid-May and it has mostly remained so since.
UN officials and Egypt have been seeking to secure a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel to allow for humanitarian issues in the impoverished enclave of two million people to be addressed.
Israel is demanding calm and a return of the remains of two soldiers Hamas is believed to be holding. Two Israeli civilians, both said to be mentally unstable, are also believed to have entered Gaza and to be held by Hamas. Israel is also seeking their return.
Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya told AFP on Friday that he believed a durable truce with Israel was near.
An Israeli official said on condition of anonymity Wednesday that an initial set of “understandings” had been reached with the help of the UN and Egypt, leading to several days of calm on the border last week and the opening of the goods crossing.