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Israel blocks Gaza crossings in response to rocket attack | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel snapped shut its cargo crossings with the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, accusing Gaza militants of firing a rocket at southern Israel in violation of a shaky truce.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers denied a rocket was fired on Monday evening, and accused Israel of looking for excuses to shirk its commitment under the cease-fire agreement to ease its blockade of impoverished Gaza.

“The closing of the border today is unjustified and another indication that the Israeli occupation is manuevering and trying to dodge the conditions of the calm understanding,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.

The Israeli military said its radar detected a rocket launched from Gaza that struck near the communal farm of Mefalsim. But it said actual rocket fragments were not located, and local security officials were searching for them Tuesday morning.

It was not clear how Hamas would know definitively whether a rocket was fired. Several militant factions operate inside Gaza, and Hamas would have no way of accounting for the actions of each and every fighter.

No injuries or damages were reported Monday, but Israel has taken a zero tolerance approach to any violation of the cease-fire. Since the truce went into effect on June 19, the crossings have been closed for five days because of rocket and mortar attacks.

None of them has caused serious injuries or damage. Abu Zuhri also accused the military on Tuesday of shooting a 65-year-old Palestinian woman who lives near Israel-Gaza border in what he called “a grave violation of the calm understanding.”

The military said its preliminary investigation indicated it was not involved.

In its initial stage, the Egyptian-brokered truce aims to bring an end to fighting that has killed seven Israelis and more than 400 Palestinians, many of them civilians, since the Islamic militant group Hamas wrested control of Gaza a year ago. It also obliges Israel to ease its bruising blockade of the coastal strip, home to 1.4 million people.

The sanctions were designed to pressure Palestinian militants to halt their assaults on southern Israel, but have driven ordinary Gazans even deeper into destitution and confined them to their tiny seaside territory.

In recent months, Israel’s passages with Gaza have been sealed to everything but humanitarian aid and fuel supplies. Israel had committed under the truce to allow in larger shipments of some supplies, but deliveries have not increased because of the attacks.

Egypt, too, sealed its border with Gaza after the Hamas takeover, opening it only occasionally on humanitarian grounds.

On Tuesday, Egypt again opened the Rafah crossing, Gaza’s main gateway to the outside world, for two days to allow hundreds of people stranded on both sides to cross.

Palestinian diplomat Nabil Amr told reporters in Cairo on Monday that Palestinians needing medical treatment and those with residency permits in Egypt or other countries abroad would be allowed into Egypt.

Fifty Gazans with medical conditions were to be the first allowed out, traveling across the border in ambulances.

Although Rafah lies on the Gaza-Egypt border, Israel has had the power to halt the crossing’s operations because Europeans monitoring the passage require Israeli security clearance to operate. That clearance has not been given since the Hamas takeover, and Israel has insisted that Rafah would not “return to normal business” until Hamas releases an Israeli soldier captured two years ago. But the emphasis on “normal business” indicated that Israel would agree to occasional openings of Rafah. In January, Hamas blew up the border wall between Egypt and Gaza, allowing hundreds of thousands of people to move in and out of Egypt for nearly two weeks before it was resealed.