JERUSALEM — Israel said Saturday that it would close its border crossing to thousands of Gaza workers after a series of rockets were fired from the territory ruled by the militant Hamas group in recent days.
The Palestinians denounced the move as “collective punishment” of the impoverished territory’s 2 million residents, who have lived under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces nearly 15 years ago.
Rocket fire occurred amid close-to-daily clashes in Jerusalem’s flashpoint holy site, where Palestinians were throwing stones and fireworks. Israeli police entered the compound firing stun grenades and rubber-coated bullets.
Fears of another war between Israel & Hamas have been raised by the violence in Jerusalem as well as a series of attacks and raids on Israel that has left the West Bank occupied.
Israel reported that Palestinian militants had fired two rockets Friday evening, one of which landed in Israel’s open space and the second hitting Gaza. Palestinian media reports that the rocket hit Gaza killing two residents. Officials from the health department did not respond immediately.
A second rocket fired early Saturday from Gaza, though the military didn’t say exactly where it fell. No reports were made of any injuries or casualties.
According to the Israeli military, which coordinates civil affairs in Gaza, workers will not have their crossing reopened after the beginning of the week on Sunday. “The re-opening of the crossing will be decided accordingly with a security assessment,” it said in a statement.
Recent months saw Israel issue thousands of Palestinians working permits from Gaza to Israelis. Gaza has suffered from a severe Israeli and Egyptian blockade for almost 15 years, since Hamas took power from the rival Palestinian forces.
Israel portrayed the move as a goodwill gesture in order to maintain calm, but the permits — which can be revoked at any time — also give it a strong form of leverage over Palestinians. Over 100,000 Palestinians live in the West Bank and Gaza, while Israel gives permits to 12,000 Palestinians living in Gaza.
The Gaza workers union said the closure was “collective punishment” and would hurt the already suffering economy, where unemployment hovers around 50%. The closure was announced just prior to Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan’s holy month, and would increase the suffering of families trying to survive.
Sami Amassi, the head of the union, said the permits themselves were meant to “exploit” the workers for political purposes, rather than improve their lives.
Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the move “aims at tightening the siege and is a form of aggression that we cannot accept.”
“This will not succeed. The police of collective punishment against the Palestinians has always proven to fail,” he told The Associated Press.
Israel captured east Jerusalem — which includes major holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims — along with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 war. All three territories are to be part of their new state.
Israel annexed eastern Jerusalem in an international move that was not recognized. The Israeli government has since built Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank, which now houses nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers along with nearly 3 million Palestinians. In the past ten years, there have not been any substantive peace negotiations.
Jerusalem’s violence has been concentrated on Al-Aqsa Mosque. It is the third most sacred site of Islam. Because it used to house two Jewish temples, the Temple Mount has been referred to by Jews as the Temple Mount.
It is the emotional center of the Israeli-Palestinian war and has often sparked violence.
Akram was based in Hamilton, Canada.
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