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Israel to reopen Gaza crossing if 'calm' holds, says Lieberman

Israel closed its only goods crossing with the blockaded Gaza Strip in July in response to fire kites
A ceasefire called on Saturday by Hamas, which governs Gaza, continues to be met (MEE/Mohammed Asad)

Israel has said it will reopen its only goods crossing with the blockaded Gaza Strip on Tuesday if calm is maintained, after closing it earlier this month. 

The announcement came as UN officials warned that the enclave was facing serious fuel shortages affecting hospitals as well as water and sanitation facilities, calling for restrictions to be lifted.

Speaking to journalists during a visit to the Karem Abu Salem crossing on Sunday, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Israel would allow "normal activity" to resume at the crossing from Tuesday if a "calm" is maintained.

"If today and tomorrow the situation continues as it was yesterday, then on Tuesday we will allow Kerem Shalom [known to Palestinians as Karem Abu Salem] to return to normal activity, and the fishing zones will return to the same distances as before," Lieberman said.

He added that calm also meant an end to months of kites and balloons carrying firebombs over the border fence from the besieged Palestinian enclave run by Hamas to burn Israeli farmland.

Lieberman said: "The key is quiet, calm, zero firebombs, zero friction on the fence and zero rockets or, God forbid, shooting."

Israeli authorities say the firebombs have started hundreds of fires since April.

Lieberman's comments came after a ceasefire reached following a significant increase in violence between Palestinian fighters in Gaza and Israel on Friday.

A ceasefire called by Hamas, which governs Gaza, on Saturday has continued to hold following a wave of deadly Israeli air strikes across the Gaza Strip the previous day.

The death of an Israeli soldier shot by Palestinian militants sparked the Gaza-wide strikes on Friday by Israel. 

Since the demonstrations began in March, Israeli forces have killed 149 Palestinians (Reuters)

The Israeli soldier, shot dead along the border in southern Gaza, was the first to be killed in and around the Palestinian enclave since a 2014 war between Israel and Hamas.

Palestinians have been demonstrating every Friday since 30 March, calling for their right to return to the homes and land their families were expelled from seven decades ago.

Since the demonstrations began, Israeli forces have killed 149 Palestinians and wounded more than 16,000 people, according to Gaza health officials.

Friday's escalation, the second in as many weeks, followed months of tension that have raised fears that a fourth war since 2008 could erupt between Hamas and Israel.

Israel has tightened its already crippling blockade of Gaza in recent weeks as it seeks to pressure Hamas to end the incendiary kites and balloons.

On 9 July, Israel announced that the goods crossing was closed to most deliveries, partly in response to the firebombs and other incidents along the border.

On 17 July, it further tightened the restrictions to prevent fuel deliveries while reducing the fishing zone Israel enforces off Gaza to three nautical miles from six.

The crossing has remained open for food and medicine on a case-by-case basis.

Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said on Sunday that "supplies of emergency fuel provided by the UN for critical facilities in Gaza are being fast depleted".

He called on Israel to end restrictions on fuel imports and warned hospitals could soon be forced to close, with emergency supplies set to run out in early August.

"Given ongoing blackouts of about 20 hours a day, if fuel does not come in immediately, people’s lives will be at stake, with the most vulnerable patients, like cardiac patients, those on dialysis, and newborns in intensive care, at highest risk," he said in a statement.

Gaza suffers from a severe electricity shortage and relies on generators in many cases.