Israel to reopen Gaza goods crossing if calm holds

Palestinian security forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority stand at the gate of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza, in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah. (Said Khatib/AFP)
Updated 22 July 2018
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Israel to reopen Gaza goods crossing if calm holds

  • Israel to reopen goods crossing with the blockaded Gaza Strip on Tuesday if calm maintained
  • The crossing point has been closed since July 9 partly because of the use of kites carrying fire bombs

JERUSALEM: Israel will reopen its only goods crossing with the blockaded Gaza Strip on Tuesday if calm holds following a cease-fire, a minister said, after closing it July 9 partly over kites carrying firebombs.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned separately, however, that the military was prepared for far more intense strikes in the Gaza Strip if it deems necessary after a severe flare-up of violence on Friday.
UN officials meanwhile said that the Gaza Strip was facing serious fuel shortages affecting hospitals as well as water and sanitation facilities, calling for restrictions to be lifted.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday spoke of reopening the goods crossing, known as Kerem Shalom.
“If today and tomorrow the situation continues as it was yesterday, then on Tuesday we will allow Kerem Shalom to return to normal activity and the fishing zones will return to the same distances as before,” he said.
Lieberman, speaking at the crossing, stressed that calm also meant an end to months of kites and balloons carrying firebombs over the border fence from the Palestinian enclave run by Hamas to burn Israeli farmland.
Israeli authorities say hundreds of fires have been started by the firebombs since April.
Lieberman said “the key is quiet, calm, zero firebombs, zero friction on the fence and zero rockets or, God forbid, shooting.”
A spokesman for Israel’s fire service said there were no fires caused by the devices along the Gaza border on Saturday and Sunday. He said there had been an average of around 24 per day in recent weeks.
The comments by Lieberman and Netanyahu came after a cease-fire was reached following a major flare-up of violence between Palestinian in Gaza and Israel on Friday.
The escalation — the second in as many weeks — followed months of tension that have raised fears that a fourth war since 2008 could erupt between Hamas and Israel.
The cease-fire followed a wave of deadly Israeli air strikes across Gaza sparked by the death of an Israeli soldier shot near the border.
There has been relative calm on the Gaza border since the cease-fire.
“At the weekend we gave Hamas a very severe blow, and if necessary we will strike them sevenfold,” Netanyahu said.
Israel announced on July 9 that the goods crossing was being closed to most deliveries partly in response to the firebombs and other incidents along the border fence.
On July 17, it further tightened the restrictions to also prevent fuel deliveries while reducing the fishing zone Israel enforces off Gaza to three nautical miles from six.
The crossing has remained open for food and medicine on a case-by-case basis.
The UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, Jamie McGoldrick, said Sunday that “supplies of emergency fuel provided by the UN for critical facilities in Gaza are being fast depleted.”
He called on Israel to end restrictions on fuel imports and warned hospitals could soon be forced to close, with emergency supplies set to run out in early August.
“Given ongoing blackouts of about 20 hours a day, if fuel does not come in immediately, people’s lives will be at stake, with the most vulnerable patients, like cardiac patients, those on dialysis, and newborns in intensive care, at highest risk,” he said in a statement.
Gaza suffers from a severe electricity shortage and relies on generators in many cases.
Mass protests and clashes erupted on the Gaza border on March 30 and have continued at varying levels since then.
At least 149 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since March 30. The soldier shot dead on Friday was the first Israeli killed in that period.
Gaza’s only other goods crossing is with Egypt. It had been kept largely closed in recent years, but Egypt opened it in mid-May and the crossing, known as Rafah, has remained open most of the time since then.


Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

Since protests began in December, Iranians have had their internet access disrupted and have lost access to the messaging app Telegram. (Reuters)
Updated 22 min 16 sec ago
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Iran govt faces angry online backlash over activists’ abuse claims

  • The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government

GENEVA, LONDON: In early January, labor activist Esmail Bakhshi posted a letter on Instagram saying he had been tortured in jail, attracting support from tens of thousands of Iranians online.
Bakhshi, who said he was still in pain, also challenged the intelligence minister to a public debate about the religious justification for torture. Late last month, Bakhshi was rearrested.
Sepideh Qoliyan, a journalist covering labor issues in the Ahvaz region, was also rearrested on the same day after saying on social media that she had been abused in jail.
Bakhshi’s allegations of torture and the social media furor that followed led Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to call for an investigation, and the intelligence minister subsequently met with a parliamentary committee to discuss the case, a rare example of top officials being prompted to act by a public backlash online.
“Each sentence and description of torture from the mouths of #Sepideh_Qoliyan and #Esmail_Bakhshi should be remembered and not forgotten because they are now alone with the torturers and under pressure and defenseless. Let us not forget,” a user named Atish posted on Twitter in Farsi on Feb. 11.
“When thousands of people share it on social media, the pressure for accountability goes up,” said Hadi Ghaemi, executive director at the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran. “Sham investigations won’t put it to rest. Social media is definitely becoming a major, major public square in Iran.”
Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi said last month, without naming Bakhshi, that allegations of torture online constitute a crime.
His comments follow growing pressure from officials to close Instagram, which has about 24 million users in Iran. Iran last year shut down the Telegram messaging app, which had about 40 million users in the country, citing security concerns.
“Today you see in cyberspace that with the posting of a film or lie or rumor the situation in the country can fall apart,” Dolatabadi said, according to the Iranian Students’ News Agency. “You saw in recent days that they spread a rumor and announced the rape of an individual or claimed suicide and recently you even saw claims of torture and all the powers in the country get drawn in. Today cyberspace has been transformed into a very broad platform for committing crimes.”
The arrests of Bakhshi and Qoliyan are part of a crackdown in Ahvaz, center of Iran’s Arab population. Hundreds of activists there pushing for workers’ and minority rights, two of the most contentious issues in Iran, have been detained in recent weeks.
The Arab minority in southwest Iran has long claimed that it faces discrimination from the central government.