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Liberman orders halt of fuel to Gaza until 'violence stops entirely'

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman at the Quneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria, September 27, 2018
Ariel Hermoni, Ministry of Defense

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Saturday that Israel would halt the transfer of fuel into the Gaza Strip until violence along the volatile border ends, following yet another weekend of clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli army.

“Until violence in the Gaza Strip stops entirely, including the launching of incendiary balloons and the burning of tires near Israeli communities, the supply of fuel and gas to the Gaza Strip will not be renewed,” Liberman said in a statement on Saturday.

Israel has seen thousands of liters of Qatari-bought fuel trucked into Gaza daily to boost the impoverished territory's electricity supply, after a deal, brokered by the United Nations and backed by the United States, was reached earlier this week.

The fuel deal had been reached without the agreement of the officially recognized Palestinian government, in what diplomats said was a first for Gaza -- which is controlled by the rival Palestinian faction, Hamas.

However, senior members of the Israeli defense establishment opposed Liberman's order, arguing that a distinction should be made between the fuel provided by Qatar and Israel, according a report by Haaretz.

Israel delivers 15 tankers of fuel and gasoline and another six or seven tanks of gas to Gaza on a daily basis, which the defense officials believe is necessary to avoid further damaging the humanitarian situation.

The officials believe that linking border violence to the humanitarian situation in Gaza would be a mistake, according to the report, suggesting that Liberman's demand to stop all violence from the enclave, including incendiary balloons, would be going too far.

-Flare up of violence-

The prospects of peace in Gaza following the Qatar fuel deal were shattered on Friday when seven Palestinians were killed and dozens more injured in the Gaza Strip in clashes with Israel Defense Forces (IDF), according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

IDF said that they "wiped out terrorists who detonated an explosive on the security fence in Gaza and crossed over it."

Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said around 20 Palestinians had crossed the border in an "organized attack" after an explosive device destroyed a portion of the fence.

A later IDF statement called it a "blatant terror attack that was thwarted by IDF troops quickly and professionally which prevented a possible terror attack against civilians and IDF troops."

Liberman’s statement on halting fuel to Gaza came after Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh cheered for the continued violence on Gaza's border.

SAID KHATIB (AFP)

“The strength of will and the determination of our people in the March of Return will lead to victory over the crimes of the occupation,” he said while attending funerals for those killed in Friday’s violent riots. “The blood of the martyrs brings us closer to victory over the Zionist enemy.”

The escalation in violence between Palestinians and the Israeli army over the weekend came after rumors have been circulating recently about a multilateral agreement between Hamas and various elements in the region, with Qatar pledging this week $150 million, including for fuel supply, in humanitarian aid for Gaza.

At least 205 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed since protests and clashes erupted along the border on March 30. 50 of those killed have been identified as members of Hamas.

The protesters are demanding to be allowed to return to lands now inside Israel, from which their families fled or were displaced during the 1948 war surrounding the creation of the Jewish state.

Two months ago, Hamas and Israel came close to a war but indirect ceasefire negotiations between the two sides with Egypt and the UN avoided what would have been a fourth Gaza war since Hamas took control of the enclave in 2007.

Although rumors about Qatar’s role in assisting Gaza financially in return for peace along the border circulated in the media the past week, no official agreement has been signed.

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