Israel extends Gaza crossing closures after arrest of militant leader

Fears mount over possibility of reprisal attacks by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group after the arrest of a senior leader this week in the occupied West Bank

A Hamas security guard on the Palestinian side of the Erez crossing that leads into Gaza. EPA
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Israel on Thursday extended its closure of Gaza crossings, further restricting the movement of people, goods and aid, over what the army said were potential retaliatory attacks linked to the arrest of a Palestinian militant leader.

Israel arrested Bassam Al Saadi, a senior leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, on Monday during a raid in the West Bank city of Jenin, in which a 17-year-old member of Islamic Jihad was killed.

It has since closed off all Gaza crossings and some surrounding roads, citing fears of retaliation.

The militant group declared that it was on full alert, implying a threat of imminent retaliation, after footage circulating in Israeli media appeared to show that Al Saadi may have been hurt during his arrest.

“We detect the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's intentions to carry out terrorist attacks,” Nimrod Aloni, commanding officer of the Gaza division, said in a video released by the Israeli military.

The shutdown “will continue as long as necessary”, he said.

The shutdown, which entered its third day on Thursday, has prevented Palestinian workers from crossing into Israel. It has affected 50 patients a day in need of health care outside of Gaza, according to the World Health Organisation.

Gaza's only power station is also at risk of imminent shutdown due to a lack of fuel caused by the crossing closures, its manager warned on Thursday.

"If industrial diesel needed for the plant to generate electricity does not enter today or tomorrow, the plant will stop generating electricity because there is not enough [fuel] to run it," said Rafiq Maliha, the station's general manager.

Diesel for the power plant is usually transported by lorries from Egypt or Israel, which has maintained a blockade of the enclave since the militant group Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.

Gaza's 2.3 million residents experience regular power shortages and last week received only an average of 10 hours of electricity a day, according to data from the UN's humanitarian agency Ocha.

They would face further power cuts if the plant stopped operating, leaving the enclave's only external source of power a daily feed of 120 megawatts that comes from Israel.

“That would have a grave impact on the daily life of over two million people and vital services,” said Mohammad Thabit, an executive at Gaza's power distribution company.

Israeli officials have so far offered no comment on the circumstances of Al Saadi's arrest, but the country's media reported on Thursday that a military court extended his detention by eight days.

In a tweet after a security briefing on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Israel would “act offensively against any organisation that threatens the security of our citizens”.

Since Hamas started governing Gaza in 2007, Israel has maintained a land, air and sea blockade of the strip, citing security concerns.

Residents on the Israeli side have also complained of restrictions on movement.

Egyptian mediators sought to lower tension between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad after Al Saadi's arrest.

“We are in contact with Egyptian officials but so far there is no satisfactory result, therefore, the full alert status remains,” said Daoud Shehab, the militant group's spokesman.

Abdel Latif Al Qanoua, a spokesman for Hamas, the militant group that rules Gaza, condemned Israel's closures and said his group had also been in talks with mediators.

“We will not accept the continued closure of crossings and the policy of collective punishment,” he said.

Updated: August 05, 2022, 5:31 AM