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Head Israeli official threatens closure of Gaza crossings

Jan. 27, 2016 9:08 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 28, 2016 6:41 P.M.)
Palestinians walk through the Erez border crossing with Israel in the northern Gaza Strip as they cross into Gaza on June 9, 2010. (AFP/ Mahmud Hams, File)
By: Emily Mulder

GAZA CITY (Ma’an) -- The head coordinator of Israeli government activity in the occupied Palestinian territory has threatened to seal crossings between Israel and the besieged Gaza Strip.

A spokesperson for COGAT told Ma’an on Wednesday that COGAT head Yoav Mordechai broke the news during an interview with the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds, on the grounds that the Hamas movement that governs the strip is recruiting people exiting Gaza for “terrorism purposes.”

“It seems that Hamas is preparing for another military offensive and has no interest in serving the interests of the population in the Strip. This situation will eventually cause the closing of the crossings and the cessation of exits from Gaza," the spokesperson quoted Mordechai as saying.

The Israeli official warned Hamas to “cease efforts to exploit entry permits from Gaza to Israel for terrorism purposes,” saying that the movement gives permits to Gazan merchants and workers traveling to the occupied West Bank.

“They recruit them for terror purposes and this is forcing Israel to consider several times before issuing permits,” COGAT quoted Mordechai as saying.

Around 91,000 Palestinians were allowed by Israel to pass through the Erez crossing during 2015 for business-related purposes, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The number marked around four times the number of business-related entrances and exits from Israel to Gaza Strip in previous years.

Israel had reportedly increased business permits for the purposes of boosting Gaza’s economy, which the World Bank last spring estimated was on the verge collapse due to the blockade, ongoing war, and poor governance.

Israel has maintained a land, sea, and air blockade since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, cutting off the enclave’s over 1.8 million Palestinian residents from the outside world.

The blockade has largely been upheld by Egyptian authorities on Gaza's southern border since the summer of 2013.

An Israeli legal center for the freedom of movement, Gisha, told Ma'an in response to Mordechai's announcement that regular activity of the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings were "indispensable for the lives of the 1.8 million residents of the strip," noting that movement via the crossings is already "extremely restricted."  

"Keeping the crossings open is not a 'gesture' Israel 'gives' the strip," Gisha spokesman Shai Grunberg said.

"It is Israel's obligation, stemming from its control over many aspects of life in Gaza, including its control of the crossings. Israel has the right and even the duty to protect its citizens. Collectively punishing Gaza's residents will neither achieve that aim nor is it acceptable," Grunberg said.

Israeli officials have consistently stated that the military blockade is necessary for the security of Israeli citizens, while the international community has demanded a lift of the blockade on the grounds that Palestinians living in Gaza are unable to meet their basic human needs.

The United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has repeatedly requested Israel to lift all closures of Gaza crossings, most recently calling the humanitarian situation in the area “perilous” on Tuesday.

Asked how Israel would be able to ensure that necessary foot traffic and cargo was able to pass in and out of Gaza if the crossings were to be closed, COGAT told Ma’an: “Israeli policies are designed to ease the life of the residents and to strengthen the Palestinian economy.”

The body added that the body had issued “over 100,000 permits for prayers, medical treatments and merchandise” since the military’s last operation in the strip.

Comments by COGAT's Mordechai that Hamas is preparing for another "military offensive" against Israel have been echoed in rhetoric from Hamas in recent months, alluding to the expansion of a tunnel network for military use.

However, the group has remained largely absent from a wave of unrest that spread across the occupied Palestinian territory in October and continued into January, while residents of the Gaza Strip have yet to recover from Israel's 2014 offensive, the third in just six years.

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