TEL AVIV, Israel—Israel on Sunday closed its civilian border crossing with the Gaza Strip, preventing thousands of Gazans from getting to work, in Israel in an effort to pressure Gaza’s ruler Hamas to halt rocket attacks against southern Israel.
The Israeli closure comes after Palestinian militants fired two rockets at Israel Friday night and one on Saturday morning, the third round of rocket attacks against southern Israel since Monday night. No Israelis have been injured by the rockets. One Gazan was injured Friday after a rocket fell short of reaching Israel and landed within Gaza, the Israeli military said in a statement.
No militant group has claimed responsibility for the recent rocket attacks.
Hamas and other Gaza militant groups have been threatening to attack Israel over near-daily clashes last week between Israeli police and Palestinians at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site, the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, called the Temple Mount by Jews.
Israel responded to the first rocket attacks last week by targeting militant sites in Gaza with airstrikes. After Saturday’s round of rocket fire, Israeli officials said they chose to take economic measures against the strip to pressure Hamas, which has a tight grip over the entire enclave.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy for rocket fire. This is why we took measures to prevent workers from entering Israel from Gaza,” said Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid in a press briefing Sunday. “Militants in Gaza are hurting their own people,” he said.
Israeli officials say Hamas is currently uninterested in an escalation, but may be struggling to prevent smaller, independent militant groups from firing rockets at Israel. At the same time, Israel says Hamas is intentionally trying to stir conflict in Jerusalem and the West Bank, as it continues efforts to increase its popularity in those areas.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Friday praised mediation efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations to prevent an escalation, but said continued tensions in Jerusalem or airstrikes in Gaza could lead to “dangerous consequences.”
“No one can control events if the situation in Gaza and at Al Aqsa continue this way,” Mr. Haniyeh told the U.N.’s peace envoy to the region, Tor Wennesland, in a phone call Friday, according to a statement from Hamas.
Twelve-thousand Gazans have permits to work in Israel, with many working in the construction industry and other business sectors. Israel’s government recently announced its intention to authorize another 8,000 permits. Israeli security officials see these workers’ relatively high salaries as a significant economic windfall for the poverty-stricken Gaza Strip and one Hamas would have an interest in preserving.
Israel and Egypt have jointly blockaded Gaza since Hamas, considered a terrorist group by the U.S., took over the strip in 2007.
The Gaza Workers Union said the move to close the border crossing was a form of “collective punishment” that would cause great harm to Palestinian workers just as they’re preparing for the Eid ul-Fitr holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.
Sami Amassi, the head of the union, said in a statement on Saturday that the Israeli decision showed Israel had not approved the worker permits to benefit Gaza’s civilians, but as a measure “to exploit them for political and security or any escalation with Gaza.”
Tensions in Jerusalem are running higher than usual this year after a rare overlapping of religious holidays that have brought tens of thousands of worshipers to Jerusalem’s Old City since last Friday as Muslims observe Ramadan and Jews celebrated Passover, which ended Friday night.
Palestinians say the clashes in Jerusalem are due to anger over what they say are Israel’s violations of the status quo on the Al Aqsa compound, which allows only Muslims to pray there and non-Muslims to visit. They point to increased visits by religious Jews, many organized by groups that openly lobby for further Jewish control at the site. They also say Israel’s police use unnecessary force at the site, and too often enact measures that limit when Muslims can pray there.
Mr. Lapid on Sunday repeated his assertion of recent days that Israel has no plans to alter the status quo on the contested hilltop. He said Hamas and other militant groups organized riots intentionally aimed at producing videos that would stir Muslim anger at Israel.
—Yardena Schwartz contributed to this article.
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