Israel closing Gaza crossing after Palestinian attack

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military said Saturday it was shutting down its main cargo crossing into Gaza because of extensive damage caused to it by Palestinian protesters.

The military said the Kerem Shalom crossing will be closed until further notice and not before the damage was repaired. The military said that a group of Palestinians, as part of their weekly protests, burned a fuel complex and conveyor belt on their side of the crossing on Friday, causing more than $9 million in damages and disrupting the import of diesel fuel and building materials. It said the attack rendered the main fuel and gas lines unusable and caused further damage to electrical infrastructure and other vital equipment.

A lengthy closing of the crossing would deliver further devastation to Gaza’s already dire humanitarian crisis. The fuel installation is the only way to bring diesel fuel into Gaza for operating generators for hospitals and other key facilities. The military distributed a video showing Palestinians cheering as a fire was set. It was the second such attack on the facility in a week, it said. “Hamas continues to lead the residents of Gaza to destroy the only assistance they receive,” the army said.

Palestinians in Gaza have been staging weekly protests at the border fence against a decade-old blockade of the territory. The demonstrations have been organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, but are fueled by despair among the territory’s 2 million residents. The vast majority are barred from travel and trade, while the blockade has gutted the economy.

Since March 30, 41 Palestinian protesters have been killed and more than 1,800 wounded. The coming week could see an uptick in violence, as Palestinians are planning much larger protests — and possibly a border breach — to coincide with the United States relocating its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem on Monday and the 70th anniversary of their “nakba,” or catastrophe, referring to their mass uprooting during the Mideast war over Israel’s 1948 creation, on Tuesday.

Israel says it has a right to defend its border and has accused Hamas of using the protests as a cover for attacking the border. Rights groups say the use of potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters is unlawful.