(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)
The Israeli military on Saturday announced the closure of the Kerem Shalom border crossing into the Gaza Strip, a day after Palestinian rioters trashed key infrastructure serving the only entry point of outside goods into the Hamas-run Strip, causing immense damage.
The crossing will be closed while the damage is repaired, and will reopen in accordance with the security situation, officials said.
The army said its recommendation to shutter the crossing, which ordinarily sees hundreds of cargo-bearing trucks pass into Gaza each day, was approved by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.
Apart from humanitarian cases, the IDF said the Kerem Shalom crossing would remain closed until the “extensive damage” caused by the torched gas lines as well as a conveyor belt used to transfer goods into the Strip is repaired.
The army estimated the damage to Kerem Shalom would cost $9 million to repair.
Earlier on Saturday, Israeli officials toured the Kerem Shalom area and said they were “astonished by the devastation and destruction Palestinians left in their wake.”
“They’re bringing a disaster upon themselves,” one unnamed official told the Ynet news site.
Friday’s vandalism at the crossing was a repeat of a similar incident on May 4, when demonstrators broke into the Palestinian side of the crossing and damaged pipelines carrying gas and oil into Gaza, which already suffers from a significant energy shortage.
“This is a cynical act that harms the welfare of Gaza residents and the humanitarian efforts carried out by Israel and many other countries,” the army said at the time.
Around 15,000 Palestinians took part in protests along the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel on Friday, in the final weekly “March of Return” before next week’s Nakba Day events on May 14 and 15, when the violent demonstrations are expected to reach their peak.
The IDF said violent protesters clashed with Israeli soldiers at five major points along the border. Troops were attacked with pipe bombs, grenades, rocks, and burning tires. Rioters also attempted to sabotage “security infrastructure,” the army said.
Several flaming kites were flown over the fence by demonstrators, sparking blazes in Israeli territory. Israeli officials said Friday night the fires were under control.
The Hamas-encouraged demonstrations are ostensibly aimed to protest the decade-long Israeli-Egyptian blockade, imposed after the terror group violently seized power in Gaza in 2007, and to assert Palestinian demands for millions to “return” to lost properties in what is now Israel.
But Israel maintains that Hamas uses the protests as a cover for violent attacks at the border and attempts to breach into Israeli territory.
On Friday, the IDF accused Hamas of orchestrating the damage to Kerem Shalom, saying the ruling terror group was “harming the wellbeing of Gaza residents and paralyzing their daily life.”
“Israel along with many other countries are working to bring food, equipment, and fuel to the residents of the Gaza Strip, and Hamas is preventing them from entering, and are carrying out activities that endanger the operations of the border crossings,” the IDF said.
According to the Hamas health ministry, around 50 Palestinians have been killed since protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30 and hundreds of others have been wounded by gunfire. Israel says it only opens fire when necessary to stop infiltrations, damage to the fence, and attacks.
Hamas acknowledged that five of its terrorists were among the fatalities after the first Friday demonstration, but has since refrained from acknowledging whether its men are among the dead. Israel has identified other fatalities as members of terrorist groups.
On Thursday, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar said he hopes to see a mass breach of the Israeli border during next week’s protests timed to coincide with the US embassy’s move to Jerusalem.
Israel has repeatedly expressed concern over the possibility of a mass breach of the Gaza fence, in which Palestinians would stream across with terrorists among them, wreaking havoc. Sinwar has vowed in the past that protesters would “breach the borders and pray at Al-Aqsa,” referring to the major Muslim shrine in Jerusalem.
Hamas has said if the protests “don’t achieve their goals,” they will continue.