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Gaza crossings closed after rocket attack

1/07/2008 - 15:39

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Israel shut its border crossings with theGaza Strip on Tuesday in what it called a response to a rocketattack a day earlier that further strained a ceasefire.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, denied any rockets hadbeen launched on Monday from the territory, which is under thecontrol of the Islamist group.

A spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in the GazaStrip said it was possible that local merchants, hoping to keepcrossings closed and corner the market for supplies they hadstockpiled, have paid gunmen to fire at Israel.

He declined to confirm or deny a report on Israel's YNetNews website that Hamas security forces had arrested a Gazasunflower seed merchant on suspicion of instigating attacks.

But a Hamas official said at least two gunmen had beendetained since the Egyptian-brokered truce began on June 19 forfiring mortar bombs into the Israeli crossing of Nahal Oz,where fuel is pumped into the Gaza Strip.

In new violence, Israeli forces guarding the Sufa crossinginto the southern Gaza Strip shot and wounded a Palestinianwoman, Palestinian medical officials said. An Israeli militaryspokesman said the army was not aware of a shooting incident.

Shlomo Dror, an Israeli Defence Ministry spokesman, saidall Gaza crossings were closed except for the terminal at Erez,which was open "for humanitarian use only".

"We had given an order to increase the number of trucksfrom 60 to 90 per day, but the other side continues to fire (atIsrael)," Dror said, referring to goods that were to have beentransferred to the Gaza Strip.

He gave no timeframe for reopening the Gaza crossings.

"Time is passing and there is a retreat in the Zionistpositions and there are discouraging beginnings," Hamas leaderIsmail Haniyeh said in a speech in Gaza in which he also urgedPalestinian factions to abide by the truce.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, speaking at aSocialist conference in Athens, said the continuing rocket firefrom the Gaza Strip "is frustrating for us".

WEST BANK

Israel had previously shut the crossings on June 25 afterIslamic Jihad launched a cross-border rocket attack in what themilitant group described as a response to the killing byIsraeli forces of one of its leaders in the occupied West Bank.

The West Bank is not covered by the ceasefire, but IslamicJihad had put Israel on notice that it might react violently toraids in the territory. Israel says its military operations inthe West Bank help to prevent attacks on Israelis.

Other Gaza militants have also fired a rocket and twomortar bombs since the truce took effect. U.N. sources saidlast week Israeli forces opened fire in the Gaza Strip at leasteight times, wounding two people, after the ceasefire began.

"Those involved were either people collaborating withIsrael or merchants out for personal gain," said Ehabal-Ghsain, the Interior Ministry spokesman in the Gaza Strip.

Israel sharply cut back the supply of goods into the GazaStrip a year ago, after Hamas seized the territory from forcesloyal to President Mahmoud Abbas's more secular Fatah faction.

Along its border with the Gaza Strip, Egypt opened theRafah crossing on Tuesday for three days for the limitedpassage of people, such as Palestinians stranded in Egypt andGazans seeking medical treatment abroad.

(Additional reporting by Avida Landau in Jerusalem andAthens bureau, Writing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Editingby Elizabeth Piper)


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