Israel Maintains Closure of Gaza Border Crossings

Israel said it would keep Gaza border crossings closed on Wednesday after mortars and rockets were fired from Gaza into South Israel on Tuesday night. The previous day it had said it would re-open them to allow a limited amount of food, medicines and fuel from Egypt into the impoverished territory.

"Following the firing of mortars and rockets, the border crossings will remain closed," Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner said. He said they would remain closed until further notice.

Gaza gunmen resumed firing rockets into Israel overnight after the Israeli army killed three militants, raising tensions around the enclave after a two-day lull in violence, officials said on Wednesday.

The military wing of the Islamist Hamas movement said in a statement it had fired more than two dozen mortar shells at three different targets inside Israel overnight.

Revenge

The volley was "to avenge the killing of three" members of Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades by the Israeli army late on Tuesday, it said. The army said it had fired at three militants planting explosives near the border fence.

The Islamic Jihad said it had also fired seven rockets into Israel overnight.

The escalation in violence comes after a two-day lull in hostilities, as Hamas said it would consider renewing a six-month ceasefire with Israel that expired on Friday.

Israel has maintained a strict blockade of Gaza since the cease-fire began unraveling six weeks ago, allowing in only small quantities of essential goods. Egypt has similarly sealed its border crossing with the territory.

The sanctions have deepened the destitution in Gaza, home to 1.4 million Palestinians who are confined to the tiny coastal strip. Gazans have worked around the choking off of supplies by bringing in goods through tunnels dug under the Gaza-Egypt border.

The imposition of the blockade on Gaza by Israel violates international law and constitutes collective punishment, according to the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations.

Gazans have accordingly faced severe food, medicine and energy shortages, receiving only about 30 percent of 2005 supply levels according to United Nations statistics.
 
Truce Extension

Egypt, which mediated the expired truce, is leading the diplomatic efforts to renew it. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo on Thursday.

Israel and Hamas have both signaled interest in extending the truce, but both sides are trying to push for new terms.

They have traded blame over the ceasefire’s collapse in early November. Hamas said Israel had failed to make good on its undertaking to ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip by allowing in more food and medical supplies to alleviate severe shortages.

Israel wants the Islamists to halt rocket fire. Israeli media reported on Wednesday that Israel would also want to tie any future truce agreement to the fate of an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas and held in Gaza.

Hamas and others kidnapped Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid in June 2006 and spirited him to Gaza. Israel has balked at Hamas demands to release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in return for Shalit.

(Alarabiya.net and agencies)

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