Israel shuts down Gaza border crossing damaged by Palestinian protesters

Mahmud Hams—AFP

Mahmud Hams—AFP

Israeli firefighters attempt to extinguish a fire in a wheat field near the Kibbutz of Nahal Oz, along the border with the Gaza strip, on May 8, 2018 after it was caused by incendiaries tied to kites flown by Palestinian protesters from across the border. On Friday, Palestinian protesters started fires on the Palestinian side of the crossing, damaging gas pipelines leading to the enclave, the IDF said.

The Palestinian National Committee said it was "surprised by the non-delibrate and unfortunate incident that damaged property" at Kerem Shalom and called on Palestinians to preserve the crossings. More than two-thirds of Gaza residents are descendants of refugees.

It accused the protesters of being "under the auspices of Hamas", the group that runs the Gaza strip, without providing evidence.

The death raises to 42 the number of Palestinians shot dead by Israeli forces since weekly protests began on March 30.

Though they were initially planned as non-violent demonstrations, the protests were co-opted by the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza and whose leaders have said their goal is to erase the border and "liberate Palestine".

Nissim Jan, the director of an Israeli company that operates Kerem Shalom in partnership with private Palestinian companies, said he spent large sums to fix last week's damage.

"Some petrol stations have storage for maybe a day or two, so the crisis will begin by Monday or Tuesday should the crossing remained closed", he said.

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The Gaza Health Ministry said a 40-year-old protester was killed and 176 were wounded by Israeli fire Friday.

"It is time for the worldwide community, big powers, the European Union, to do something to stop the carnage that Israel is inflicting upon innocent Palestinians". Troops were searching for the driver who fled the scene, suspecting it was possibly a Palestinian, as they have used cars as weapons in recent years.

Friday's demonstration was dubbed "Preparedness and Foreboding Friday", in anticipation of the final protest of the march early next week. "We look forward to celebrating Israel's 70th anniversary and the bright future ahead". Israel says this is vital to prevent Hamas - which has fought three rounds of conflict against Israel since seizing Gaza, firing thousands of rockets into Israel and digging dozens of attack tunnels under the border - from importing weaponry.

Egypt opens the crossing from time to time, mainly to allow people in special categories, including medical patients and Gaza residents studying overseas, to leave the territory or return to it. Helping reinforce the Israeli blockade, Egypt has kept the Rafah crossing point, Gaza's main gate to the outside world, closed most of the time since the Hamas takeover.

Tens of thousands of Gazans are expected at tented border encampments in the coming days to protest against the opening of the USA embassy in Jerusalem.

Israel has said it will prevent any border breach and has stuck to its open-fire policies, such as targeting "main instigators" and those approaching the fence, despite growing worldwide criticism.

Friday marked the seventh weekly border protest since late March.

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