Israel Closes Border Crossings Into Gaza

On December 14th, the Israeli military carried out strikes in Gaza targeting Hamas facilities and announced it will close border crossings into Gaza until further notice in response to rockets fired from Gaza towards Israel.

This decision comes just over a week after President Trump announced, on December 6th, that the U.S. will officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the U.S. embassy will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. After Trump’s announcement, protests were organized in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem, and the decision drew criticism from during an Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) summit in Turkey on December 13th, and several U.S. allies have come out against the decision.

The two crossings, Kerem Shalom and Erez are the only two crossings left on the Israeli border with Gaza. Kerem Shalom is the main crossing point used to move supplies and goods in and out of Gaza and Erez is a pedestrian crossing. Closing these border crossings will tighten the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The only other crossing into Gaza is on the Egyptian border. The border crossing was most recently scheduled to be reopened by Egypt on November 25th, but has remained closed following an attack on a mosque in Sinai that killed at least 300 civilians. Egypt has previously canceled planned openings of the border crossing, citing an unstable security situation in the country. Egypt blames Hamas for providing fighters and training to jihadist groups targeting Egyptian security forces and civilians. Egypt has rarely opened the crossing since the 2013 removal of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and close ally of Hamas.

About 15 rockets have been fired towards Israel since Trump’s announcement. While Israeli defense forces believe that Islamic Jihad fighters are responsible for the rocket fire, they hold Hamas solely responsible for the strikes because Hamas’ forces control the territory.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has called for a new intifada against Israel in the wake of the Embassy decision. The terrorist organization urged Palestinians to protest at the border fence. Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli riot police resulted in at least 2 Palestinians dead and dozens injured. Additionally an Israeli border guard was injured in a stabbing attack by a Palestinian wearing what appeared to be a suicide bomb vest, which did not detonate.

During these tensions, Hamas is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the group’s founding. The organization was created by the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in order to participate in attacks on Israel, and to provide an Islamist alternative to the Palestinian nationalist PLO. Efforts by the Muslim Brotherhood to establish an armed group culminated with Hamas’ participation in the 1st Intifada in 1987. The group continues to deny the existence of a state of Israel, oppose the peace process, and to promote attacks against Israelis. Hamas swears to force the U.S. to reverse its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Haniyeh also called on all Arab and Muslim nations to set aside every Friday for days of rage until the U.S. reverses its decision.

Despite Hamas’ rhetoric, it is uncertain if another intifada is likely, since Hamas suffered severe setbacks following the 2014 Israeli-Gaza conflict, after Israeli forces retaliated for a Hamas operation which kidnapped and killed 3 Israeli teenagers. Hamas is facing strained relations with other Arab states, due to wider regional tensions between an Arab coalition of states led by Saudi Arabia, and Hamas’ patrons, which include Iran, Turkey and Qatar.