JERUSALEM (AP) – In an unusual move, Egypt asked Israel to reopen border crossings with the Gaza Strip, closed after Palestinians violated a 3-week-old truce, Israeli defense officials said Tuesday.
Israel agreed to the request, which appeared to be an attempt to prod forward the cease-fire, which was designed in part to ease Israel’s crushing blockade of the coastal strip. In so doing, it suggested it might stop automatically closing the crossings in response to every truce violation.
None of the attacks has caused serious injuries. Passages were expected to be opened around midday Tuesday, the Israeli defense officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss communications between the two men.
In all, 12 rockets and mortars have been fired from Gaza since the truce began, the latest a mortar shell fired on Monday. In response, Israel has kept the crossings closed about half of the time since the truce took effect June 19.
Under the first phase of the cease-fire, Gaza militants were to halt their assaults on southern Israel, and Israel was to gradually allow more supplies to enter impoverished Gaza, home to 1.4 million Palestinians.
For months, the crossings have been cracked open only for humanitarian shipments, in an effort to pressure militants to stop barraging southern Israel with rockets and mortars.
The closures had led to widespread shortages of fuel, electricity and basic goods in Gaza.
So far the truce has not eased conditions in Gaza because of the frequent closures.
Should the truce take root, its final stage calls for stepped-up talks on opening a major Gaza border passage with Egypt and releasing an Israeli soldier Hamas has held for two years. Hamas officials were headed to Cairo on Tuesday to discuss opening the Gaza-Egypt passage.
Egypt mediated the truce because Israel has no contacts with Hamas, which does not recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist.
In related news, an explosion went off early Tuesday at a Hamas military training camp in Gaza, killing two members of the Islamic militant group and wounding three, both health and Hamas officials said.
Hamas’ military wing said in a statement that the two were killed while carrying out a “holy mission,” suggesting explosives were mishandled and went off prematurely. The Israeli military said it was not involved.
While trying to cement a truce with militants in Gaza, Israel is also cracking down on the movement’s operations in the West Bank.
For a second straight day, Israel troops shut down facilities of an Islamic charity in the West Bank town of Nablus. The Israeli military accused the Islamic Charity Movement of being a front for Hamas. There was no immediate comment from the charity.
Israel has intensified its crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, going after charities, moneychangers, media and schools with suspected ties to militants.
Hamas violently wrested control of the Gaza Strip a year ago, and Israel doesn’t want it to take over the West Bank, too.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, the Israeli military lifted a two-day curfew that confined residents of a Palestinian village to their homes and barred movement in and out of the community.
The army imposed the curfew on Naalin on Sunday after violent protests against Israel’s West Bank separation barrier. The barrier, designed to keep Palestinian attackers out of Israel, dips into the West Bank at points and is designed to cut through village land.