Israel keeps Gaza border crossings sealed again Thursday

There is something very awful about this.

The “tahdiya” or cease-fire or truce that Egypt negotiated between Israel (which refuses to talk to Hamas because of conditions that Israel said the UN has imposed) and Hamas was supposed to lead — after a halt in violence from both sides which started last Thursday — to a reopening of Gaza’s borders last Sunday to shipment of humanitarian goods, and an increase in the flow of such goods by next Sunday.

Eventually, there were to be discussions about the release of the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was seized near the Kerem Shalom crossing two years ago and is still being held captive somewhere in Gaza, and about the reopening of the Rafah crossing.

Analyists were wondering what would happen if there were to be a low-level violation of the terms?

Now, we are finding out.

Late on Monday or early Tuesday, Israeli forces operating in the West Bank City of Nablus killed two Palestinian young men in housing of Al-Najah University. One of them was the member of one of the Palestinian factions. His colleagues in Gaza then responded by firing several rockets in the direction of IIsrael’s Western Negev, and damaged a home in Sderot.

The Israeli response was not military. No.

But the Israeli military slammed all the border crossings into Gaza shut on Wednesday.

Despite rumors to the contrary, the borders were not reopened on Thursday. This will cause severe problems inside Gaza.

This Israeli decision also appears to be an attempt to draw the international community — which has denounced Israel’s closure of the borders and limiting entry of vital supplies — into complicity with the closing of the crossings.

Israel has always maintained there is a linkage between the firing of “projectiles” from Gaza into Israel and its overall policy of closures. But, it never before completely closed the crossings due to firing from Gaza — unless, that is, the crossings themselves were attacked, and a safety and security argument could be made.

Today’s closure is not linked to renewed firing — but to statements from Hamas officials about if and how an end to the firing could be enforced from Gaza.

So, this is very new, and a very severe coercive policy with very harsh repercussions.

The Associated Press had the most interesting report late last night from Jerusalem. It said that “Israel will keep Gaza border crossings closed another day in response to Palestinian rocket fire that had violated a new cease-fire, the Defense Ministry said late Wednesday. The decision came after Gaza’s Hamas rulers said they would not police other militant groups that break the truce that went into effect last Thursday”.

In other words, because Hamas would not take responsibility for enforcing the truce, Israel will punish again all 1.5 million souls in Gaza. This is a real policy innovation.

AP continues, in its report: “The Israeli decision not to open the crossings Thursday was made in a high-level meeting, according to defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed. The officials said the tenor of discussions was to start the supply flow over every time the crossings have to be closed: waiting three days before increasing supplies, and another week before the next step, which might include more fuel shipments. That would be a major setback for Hamas, with Israel holding out the threat that every time a Gaza militant fires a rocket or mortar, Israel would turn back the clock on supply flow … But Hamas sent mixed signals. Its officials were meeting with heads of smaller militant groups to persuade them to honor the truce, but in public statements, the group remained defiant. Hamas leader Khalil al-Haya said, ‘Hamas is not going to be a police securing the border of the occupation (Israel)’.”

The full AP report can be read here .

The Agence France Press has this interesting explanation today from the Israeli Prime Minister’s spokeman: ” ‘Any fire from the Gaza Strip is a gross violation of the understanding reached with Egypt’, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev told AFP, adding that Hamas bore responsibility for any attack from Gaza. He said the attacks violated ‘two cardinal points of the understandings reached through Egypt, namely that the truce applies only to the Gaza Strip and not to the West Bank and that it concerns all armed groups’.”

This AFP story added that “Egypt told Israel it will keep its Rafah crossing with Gaza closed until the fate of Shalit is resolved, a senior Israeli official said, but Mubarak has said it is unrealistic to link Shalit’s release to the truce”.

The full AFP report can be read here .

Ma’an News Agency in Bethlehem reports today that “[deposed] Palestinian Foreign Minister Sa’id Siyam of the Hamas-run de-facto government in the Gaza Strip announced Wednesday the decision to form a crisis unit made up of several factions in order to monitor the truce, and record Israeli breaches. Siyam’s speech came after a meeting with the leftist parties: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and the Palestine Peoples’ Party (PPP). A Hamas delegation was present to consulate on the suggested role of the crisis unit. Parties agreed on the need to commit to the truce that was negotiated in Cairo. This is a chance, Siyam added, to preserve Israel’s commitment, to give a chance for the truce and foremost, to preserve the Palestinians’ interests and end the blockade”.

Of course, it was also useful for Siyam to explain that, in addition to the need for Hamas and for Gaza to preserve the truce with Israel, there is also a Palestinian interest in such a coordinated dialog, Ma’an reported: “The very fact of the dialogue between parties, Siyam pointed out, can be seen as laying grounds for a national dialogue. He hopes that such cooperation might lead to a release of Palestinian detainees in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The dialogue, however, needs to be managed. Although it was a joint Palestinian initiative, Siyam adds that there were others who declined the invitation to join”.

This Ma’an News Agency report can be read in full here .

And, Reuters reported that “Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri accused Israel of breaching the ceasefire that began a week ago. ‘If this closure continues it will render the deal for calm meaningless’, Abu Zuhri said. ‘Securing the continuation of the Palestinian factions’ commitment to the deal hinges on the Occupation’s lifting of the siege and the opening of all the crossings in the first 10 days’, he said, referring to Israel”.

The full Reuters report can be read here .