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Israel closes Gaza crossing ahead of Eid holiday

Closure could leave Palestinians trying to travel for festival stuck, with Lieberman citing Friday's protest as the reason
Israel has closed its only crossing for Palestinians trying to leave Gaza (Reuters)

Israel on Sunday closed its only crossing for Palestinians trying to leave the Gaza Strip, tightening restrictions on the blockaded enclave ahead of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday. 

At a time when the limited number of Palestinians from Gaza granted permits would travel for the celebrations, the new restrictions could prevent them leaving the strip, though Israeli officials did not confirm how long the closure would last.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement the closure was due to "violent incidents on the border last Friday," when Palestinians gathered for weekly protests against the Israeli blockade. Two Palestinian were killed by Israeli gunfire. 

Israel's army said firebombs and improvised explosive devices were also hurled at the border fence, while a number of Palestinians briefly crossed into Israeli territory. No Israelis were reported wounded.

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The closure and border incidents occurred despite attempts by Egypt and United Nations officials to reach a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, the movement that runs the blockaded Gaza Strip.

Middle East Eye reported last week that, according to a Hamas official, the talks involve Israel allowing a sea passage between Gaza and Cyprus as well as the opening of all crossings into the enclave. 

The Palestinian Authority civilian affairs office in Gaza also confirmed the closure except for medical cases and Palestinians seeking to cross back into the strip.

Israel has enforced an air, land and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip for more than a decade and grants permits a limited number of permits for medical and other purposes, including a small number to the elderly during religious festivals. 

Israeli freedom of movement advocate Gisha said in August that Israel has increasingly denied exit permits for political reasons, with 833 applications denied in 2018 because the applicant was related to a Hamas member, compared with 21 the year before. 

Israel had just last week reopened its only goods crossing with Gaza after closing it to most deliveries for more than a month over border tensions.

Gaza's only other border is with Egypt, where the Rafah crossing has largely been kept closed in recent years but has mostly remained open since mid-May.

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