GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Gaza’s national and Islamic forces decided July 10 to escalate their popular protests that have been ongoing on the border with Israel since March 30. Their decision came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced July 9 that he would be tightening the siege on Gaza in a bid to punish Hamas for its continued launching of fire kites from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel.
Netanyahu's decision takes the Gaza Strip back to square one of the 2007 Israeli siege. Since the early morning of July 10, the Israeli army started implementing the sanctions imposed on the Gaza Strip. These included regulating the entry of goods, preventing the export of goods through the only commercial crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and reducing the fishing zone for Palestinians.
According to the decision, the Israeli army would neither allow medical supplies nor other materials into Gaza without prior coordination. Netanyahu also vowed to take further steps against Hamas, but details of these steps are yet to be announced.
Raed Fattouh, the head of the coordination committee for the entry of goods at the Kerem Shalom crossing in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “As of July 10, Israel has indeed started banning the entry of goods into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing.”
“On July 9, the Israeli authorities informed us of the decision to stop all exports from Gaza and only allow the entry of fuel, foodstuffs, health materials, medical supplies, livestock animals, fodders and hay,” he added.
Fattouh said that dozens of trucks of goods were scheduled to enter the Gaza Strip, but the Israeli decision left some of them stranded at the border.
In a press release issued July 10, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza warned against the repercussions of the Israeli decision and called on all humanitarian organizations to immediately intervene to put an end to this decision and open the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing. It also called for allowing the import of the Gazan population’s needs and the export of goods produced in Gaza.
The PCHR pointed out that the decision is part of the complete closure policy imposed by the Israeli authorities on the Gaza Strip since June 2007, when the Israeli authorities officially listed 118 items as “dual use items.” The list contains hundreds of goods and basic materials.
UN Middle East peace envoy Nikolay Mladenov voiced concerns over the consequences of Israel's decision to suspend imports and exports and only allow some basic humanitarian supplies through the Kerem Shalom crossing.
For its part, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement deemed the Israeli decision a “declaration of war” and said that the resistance is capable of responding to such a decision.
In this vein, Daoud Shehad, the spokesman for Islamic Jihad, told Al-Monitor, “The resistance will respond to the Israeli decision in a timely manner in order to protect the Palestinian people against the unfair occupation decisions. We shall never stop the Great Return March protests that have terrorized the occupation.”
In response to the Israeli decision to ban the export of vegetables from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza issued a decision banning the import of fruits from the Israeli side.
Tahseen al-Sakka, the director general of marketing, coordination and crossings at the Ministry of Agriculture, told Al-Monitor, “The Gaza Strip imports about 20 tons of Israeli fruits per day, and it exports about 200 tons of vegetables, out of which 20 tons go to Israel, while the rest goes to the West Bank and Jordan.”
He explained that “Israel allowed the export of vegetables from Gaza in 2014 after a seven-year hiatus that followed Hamas’ takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007.”
The products exported from the Gaza Strip include tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, sweet peppers, squash, strawberries and fish, he further stated.
“The vegetables exported by the Gaza Strip to the Israeli, West Bank and Jordanian markets will be channeled to the local markets in Gaza, which will lead to lower prices. This, in turn, will cause financial losses to farmers,” he added.
Hassan Abu Asad, a tomato farmer from Deir al-Balah in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “The Israeli decision will cause us heavy losses and must be quickly reversed.”
Abu Asad said that because of the Israeli decision, the price of a 12-kilogram (26-pound) box of tomatoes dropped from 40 shekels ($11) to 20 shekels ($5.50).
A senior Hamas delegation headed to Cairo July 11 at Egypt’s invitation to discuss the repercussions of the Israeli decision and the Palestinian reconciliation process, a senior Hamas source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity.
“Hamas is seeking to complete the reconciliation process that Egypt is sponsoring,” the source added.
He, however, refused to comment on whether the movement would seek to increase commercial activity at the Saladin commercial gate in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.
A source at the information office of the Rafah crossing told Al-Monitor that the Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah crossing for individual travel throughout the holy month of Ramadan in May. It is still open until further notice.
Also, following their understandings with Hamas, the Egyptian authorities allowed in February the entry of vegetables, fruits and goods into the Gaza Strip for the first time through the Saladin gate, the source added.
However, a formal mechanism is yet to be established between Hamas, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority regarding the flow of commercial goods through this gate.
Ahmad al-Mudallal, a leader in the Islamic Jihad movement, told Al-Monitor, “The [Israeli] decision is a new crime committed by the enemy [Israel] in a bid to impose new facts and pass the ‘deal of the century’ that aims to liquidate the Palestinian cause.”
“The decision is a declaration of war against our people, and we will pursue the Great Return March protests in a bid to prevent the ‘deal of the century’ from materializing,” he added.
He explained that Egypt has a major role in breaking the siege on the Gaza Strip, as it can allow a permanent flow of goods into Gaza.
Of note, Al-Zouari Unit, which specializes in launching fire kites from Gaza, said in a statement July 10 that it will be launching more balloons and fire kites overnight in a bid to turn the nights of the Gaza envelope settlers into hell.
Despite the continuation of the Great Return March protests, these protests have yet to achieve concrete results in terms of easing the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip. This raises the question as to whether military confrontation is looming.
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