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

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.

Work underway to clear land mines from Jesus baptism site

Updated 10 December 2018

Work underway to clear land mines from Jesus baptism site

  • Work at the site just north of the Dead Sea is being overseen by Israel’s Defense Ministry
  • Mines and other ordnance have been cleared from Ethiopian and Greek Orthodox monastery sites, organizers said

QASR AL-YAHUD, Palestinian Territories: Efforts to clear thousands of land mines and other ordnance around the site where many believe Jesus was baptized have reached a milestone and officials allowed a rare glimpse Sunday of abandoned churches there.

The church grounds around the site in the occupied West Bank have sat empty and decaying for around 50 years, though pilgrims have been able to visit a nearby restricted area at the traditional baptismal spot on the banks of the River Jordan.

Work at the site just north of the Dead Sea is being overseen by Israel’s Defense Ministry, de-mining charity Halo Trust and Israeli firm 4CI.

According to the ministry, the project covers around 1 square kilometer (250 acres) as well as some 3,000 mines and other explosive remnants.

It is expected to cost 20 million shekels ($5.3 million, €4.7 million).

The work began in March and would require another eight months to a year to complete, said Moshe Hilman of Israel’s Defense Ministry.

Mines and other ordnance have been cleared from Ethiopian and Greek Orthodox monastery sites as well as a Franciscan chapel, organizers said.

Other grounds belonging to Russian, Syrian, Romanian and Coptic Orthodox churches are yet to be cleared.

The plan once complete is to return the plots to the various church denominations and allow visits. At the crumbling, brick-and-concrete Ethiopian monastery on Sunday, a fading fresco of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist could still be seen inside.

Signs hung on the walls with notifications that the location had been cleared of explosives.

A collection of pieces of mortars and other explosive remnants sat alongside a nearby roadside as a demonstration of some of what had been found.

“The Halo Trust has reached a pivotal point in our work to clear the baptism site of land mines and other remnants of war,” the charity’s CEO James Cowan said in a statement.

He added that “we have completed clearance of the Ethiopian, Greek and Franciscan churches.”

The majority of the mines were laid by Israeli forces after the country seized control of the West Bank in 1967 from Jordanian troops. Other unexploded ordnance from both Israel and Jordan has remained lodged in the ground, including around the churches, which were evacuated by Israel in the 1970s.

Israel’s control of the West Bank has never been recognized by the international community, which considers the land occupied Palestinian territory.