Barak Closes Gaza Border Crossings

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ISRAELI Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday ordered Israeli forces to shut down the Gaza Strip’s borders again, turning away a truck convoy bearing food.

Two so-called Qassam rockets, small homemade projectiles of metal tubing packed with explosives, hit an empty field near the Israeli town of Sderot. No injuries were reported. A later projectile caused slight damage to a house.

Following the first projectile attack Israeli authorities reversed an earlier decision to open the Karem Shalom crossing in the south of Gaza on Thursday, to allow food and other goods into the area.

Conversely, the An-Nasser Salah Addin Brigades, the wing of the Popular Resistance Committees based in Gaza, said that the continued launch of the homemade rockets was itself a response to the ongoing blockade.

The Brigades added in a statement that the closure is a clear violation of the June 2008 Israel-Hamas truce. The group said Palestinian factions ‘are no longer committed to the truce’.

Israel has maintained a near-complete blockade of the Gaza Strip since 4 November, causing widespread blackouts and shortages of food. Israel also launched several military incursions into Gaza, threatening an Egyptian-brokered truce that went into effect in June.

Assistant Undersecretary of the Ministry of National Economy in the Gaza-based Hamas government, Nasser As-Serraj, said Israel informed the ministry of their intention to open the crossing early Thursday morning.

Forty-five trucks were to be permitted to pass into Gaza, 20 of which carried food for UNRWA, the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees.

The remaining trucks carried frozen meats, flour, oils, animal feed and chlorine used in water sterilization. All trucks were refused passage or goods transfer.

Also on Thursday energy officials warned that the electrical grid in the northern Gaza Strip is on the verge of collapse.

The closure of Gaza means that there will be no spare parts to repair the grid, which has been under increased pressure due to the shutdown of Gaza’s main power plant.

• The foreign ministers of the Arab states decided to send a shipment of aid to Gaza through the Egyptian-controlled Rafah crossing next Wednesday, a move that Palestinian leaders dismissed as insufficient.

The leaders of key Palestinian factions, including Hamas, Fatah, and Islamic Jihad had all called on the Arab states to take bold action against the Israeli siege of Gaza before the meeting.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum expressed his party’s disappointment in a Thursday statement, where he reiterated the hopes of Palestinians that the meeting would have concluded in a decision to open the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza, thus lifting the siege.

The summit was called by the Arab foreign ministers to discuss the situation in the Gaza Strip and efforts at reuniting the disparate factions.

It was decided that a large amount of aid would be sent to Gaza through the Rafah crossing, but that the border would remain closed. Barhoum called the decision a ‘weak step’ that would not end the crisis in Gaza.

A newly-formed Hamas government committee against the siege, however, praised the decision to send aid through the Rafah crossing, saying the shipment could save lives.

Ala’a al-Bata, the spokesperson of the committee, said the aid will contribute to alleviating the suffering of Gaza residents, and empower their struggle against the blockade.

On the issue of Palestinian elections and leadership, Moussa said Arabs should not accept any ‘political vacuum’ in Palestine and not tolerate a division in the Palestinian ranks.

Meanwhile, two Arab-Israeli civil rights organisations announced plans on Thursday to challenge the Israeli government’s ‘Regional Masterplan for Jerusalem,’ on the grounds that it allows the expansion of illegal settlements while restricting Palestinian development.

The Jerusalem ‘Masterplan 2000’ was introduced in September 2004, when it was roundly criticised for its exclusion of Palestinian input.

The groups claim the plan permits the city’s municipality to expand Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory.

Lawyers are representing dozens of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who are themselves affiliated with the Civil Coalition to Defend Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem (CCDPRJ) and Adalah, an Arab rights organisation inside Israel.

Both groups announced intentions to challenge the Israeli state in court over the municipal plan on Thursday at an East Jerusalem news conference.

The stated intention of the Jerusalem Masterplan 2000, according to a portion of its text, is ‘to create a framework to proceed with the development of the City of Jerusalem as a capital for the state of Israel, as a centre for the Jewish people and a seat for its government.’

But the plan also includes all of occupied East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied, then annexed in 1967.

The Israeli government redrew the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem just 20 days after the June 1967 occupation, annexing 70 square kilometres of captured Palestinian territory. There are now some 200,000 Jewish settlers living in this area carved out of the centre of the West Bank.

The international community, including the United Nations and the United States government do not recognise these expanded boundaries. The US and Britain do not have their embassies in Jerusalem because of this.

Lawyers argue that the plan to build in occupied territory is illegal under international law.

Israel’s plan ‘is not for the benefit of the Palestinian people but designed to maintain a Jewish majority in an ever-expanding “greater and united Jerusalem”,’ according to Salah Mohsen, the media coordinator for Adalah.

Lawyers alleged that the plan ‘allows for extensive highway, road and rail networks’ throughout the city that would ‘restrict the development of Palestinian communities,’ as well.

In their challenge, the groups are calling attention to a process of discriminatory colonial urban planning that has unfolded since 1967. Since then, Israeli researchers report, the Jerusalem municipality has issued an annual average of 1,500 building permits to Jewish Israelis, while issuing just 100 permits a year to Palestinians.

The Masterplan ‘will also further cement the existence of the settlements in and around Jerusalem and connect them to each other, as well as to cities in Israel,’ according to a joint statement from the two organisations.

Adalah and CCDPRJ officially objected to the Masterplan on Wednesday in a challenge filed with the National Council of Planning and Building in Israel, which will ultimately decide whether or not to go forward with the plan.

Adalah is an independent human rights organisation that works to promote and defend the rights of Palestinians, according to its website. CCDPRJ is a non-profit coalition that seeks to protect the rights of Palestinians in Jerusalem, based on international law and human-rights law, according to their news release.