CAIRO: The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) was to open the Israeli-run Kerem Shalom crossing Tuesday, July 10, a move that was fervently opposed by Hamas who reportedly threatened to open fire and shell the crossing if used in place of Rafah. Over 6,000 Palestinians have been unable to return to the Gaza Strip since Egypt closed its Rafah border on June 9 following Hamas’ take-over of Gaza. Requisite EU monitors stopped operating Rafah since tensions broke out last month.
As of 4:30 yesterday, Benny Sharoni, spokesperson at the Israeli Embassy in Egypt, was unable to confirm whether the Kerem Shalom crossing had opened but did say that the process and background checks were underway.
Using the Kerem Shalom crossing would force Palestinians to enter Israel before returning home, which is the main reason by Hamas opposed that option.
The Jerusalem Post quoted Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh as saying, We will not give the Israeli occupation this card to increase the pressure on our people. The border must remain Palestinian-Egyptian only.
“Kerem Shalom would be totally under Israeli control; they can arrest any persons they want to arrest, says Emad Gad, political analyst at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
“The Israelis can know everything about the Palestinians who want to enter, and can prevent anybody [from returning].
Palestinians crossing over will be subject to security checks in Israel.
Gad told The Daily Star Egypt that Israelis could arrest Palestinians crossing over on any grounds, including military history, even if such activities targeted other Palestinians.
The border-crossing issue is a “transitional solution, says Gad, which sends a message to Hamas that it cannot control its borders, de-legitimizing its position in Gaza.
The Associated Press reported that many Palestinians are concerned that opening the new border crossing would make re-opening Rafah less likely and would place Palestinian movement under direct Israeli control once again.
Sharoni told The Daily Star Egypt that Israel was opening the border crossing in response to a humanitarian crisis that Israel was expected to deal with by the international community, and that Israel is “more than willing to allow Palestinians to return home under certain conditions.
The conditions include working with Egyptian authorities to identify those individuals hoping to cross into Gaza. He says all background checks will be performed in advance of their crossing into Israel or Gaza.
Gad suspects that the opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing may have been an Egyptian proposal, after Egyptian media reported that Egypt was seeking to solve the crisis and the Palestinian Authority claimed the idea was an Egyptian-Israeli agreement.
“Egypt cannot open [the Rafah crossing], says Gad, “but it also cannot deal with the current situation . Perhaps they asked Israel to do what they can.
He says Egypt, not Israel, was suffering from the humanitarian crisis on their hands.
Palestinians at Rafah late last week went on hunger strike to protest the closing of the border. At least 28 have been reported dead, with hundreds more suffering physical and psychological injury after being confined at the crossing for four weeks without adequate food, water, shelter, or washing facilities.
But those stuck on the border are not the only ones welcoming the proposal.
On Monday, the Western-backed government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank said it supported the opening of Kerem Shalom as a one-time solution to a humanitarian crisis.
Information Minister Riyad Malki said the vast majority of the travelers were willing to undergo the Israeli security checks at the crossing in order to return home.
Gad says, “Fatah is probably very happy, as closing Rafah means that Egypt is refusing to recognize Hamas as an authority.
According to the Jerusalem Post, the Gaza Liaison Administration planned to begin transferring several hundred Palestinians on a trial basis.
The Palestinians won control of the Rafah terminal at the Gaza-Egypt border in 2005, following Israel s withdrawal from Gaza.
Palestinian representatives were unavailable for comment. Additional reporting by AP