Israel cancels family visitation for Gaza prisoners

Israeli authorities have canceled the weekly visits by Palestinian families from the Gaza Strip to their relatives detained in Israeli jails, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said late Sunday, while first winter rains inundate Gaza.

“The Israeli authorities notified us of the cancellation of family visits from Gaza to the Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails, which were scheduled for Monday, due to the closure of Erez crossing,” the ICRC office said in a brief statement.

Visitation rights are often withdrawn whenever Israel wants to take punitive measures against Palestinian faction Hamas in Gaza, the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, or the Palestinian people in general.

Over 7,000 Palestinians are currently languishing in prisons throughout Israel, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs.

On Sunday, Israel closed the Kerem Shalom, Gaza’s only functioning commercial crossing, and Erez Crossing, which is used for the movement of persons between Gaza and the West Bank, citing a rocket attack from the strip.

The Israeli blockade comes a week after Egypt closed its border with Gaza.

Last week, Egypt began setting up a buffer zone along its border with the Gaza strip in a move which will see about 800 homes demolished.

It comes in the wake of a suicide car bombing which killed 30 Egyptian soldiers in Sinai last week. Following the bombing, Egypt immediately closed the Rafah crossing into the Gaza Strip, the principal connection between Gaza’s 1.7 million people and the outside world.

With all borders closed, more than one and a half million people in Gaza are now isolated from the outside world. They are prisoners inside the 360 square kilometers that make up the coastal Strip.

Blockaded by Israel – by air, land and sea – since 2007, the Gaza Strip has seven border crossings linking it to the outside world.

Six of these crossings are controlled by Israel, while the seventh – the Rafah crossing – is controlled by Egypt.

Israel sealed four of its commercial crossings with Gaza in June 2007 after Palestinian resistance movement Hamas wrested control of the strip from the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority.

As it currently stands, Israeli authorities allow the Kerem Shalom crossing – which links Gaza to both Israel and Egypt – to operate for commercial purposes.

The Gaza-Israel Erez crossing, meanwhile, is generally devoted to the movement of individuals between Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

Friday’s rocket struck harmlessly was the first to strike Israeli-occupied territory since September 16, and the second since the end of the Zionist state’s devastating 51-day assault on Gaza.

For 51 days this summer, Israel pounded the Gaza Strip – by air, land and sea – with the stated aim of ending rocket fire from the coastal enclave.

More than 2,160 Gazans, at least 505 of them children, were killed – and 11,000 injured – during seven weeks of unrelenting Israeli attacks in July and August.

Thousands of Palestinian homes and government facilities were also left either in total or partial destruction.

The Israeli offensive ended on August 26 with the an Egypt-brokered cease-fire agreement.

The ceasefire deal between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza calls for reopening the strip’s border crossings, which, if implemented, would effectively end the latter’s seven-year blockade of the territory.

Yet, this term has not been put into effect yet.

The truce also calls on Israel to expand the fishing zone off Gaza’s coast.

However, Palestinians accuse Israeli forces of regular ceasefire violations, with near-daily reports that navy soldiers have fired at fishermen off the coast of the enclave, and occasional reports of Israeli troops shooting and injuring Palestinians near the border.

First rains soak victims of war-torn Gaza Strip

Israel also agreed to allow construction material into Gaza.

But two months after the war ended, no building material has entered Gaza due to Israel’s ongoing blockade.

With the first winter rains, fears of Gaza citizens whose homes were destroyed by Israel came true Friday and Saturday, especially in Khuzaa neighborhood in the southeast, where displaced citizens live in movable houses supplied by donor countries.

“Rainwater leaked into the caravan from the roof and from the sides just as winter has begun,” says Osama al-Najjar who lives with his wife and daughter in a 30-square-meter caravan after his house was completely destroyed.

He said that some of the caravans in the area moved from their places by floods of rain water which sweep away sewage water and earth.

Disappointed with her new living conditions, al-Najjar’s wife said that her family used to live in a 250-square-meter house before the war.

“After we have been living in a big house not paying the least attention to rainwater, we are now spending our time and effort trying to repair the caravan we live in so it can stand in the face of storms and floods.”

The summer aggression led to widespread destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure, reaching levels of devastation that UN chief Ban Ki Moon called “beyond description” in a visit to the Strip on October 14.

According to estimates based on preliminary information, as many as 80,000 Palestinians homes were damaged or destroyed during the days of hostilities, a higher figure than was previously thought. UNRWA estimates that at least 20,000 of these are uninhabitable.

Over 106,000 of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents have been displaced to UN shelters and host families, the UN says.

The majority of Gaza’s homeless people are children.

According to Palestinian Authority, rebuilding Gaza will cost $7.8 billion.

Commenting on the situation after the first rains, the mayor of Khuzaa warned of a possible disaster which could be more difficult than the one caused by the war itself.

The municipality, he told Ma’an, has very little equipment for relief work.

“As winter approaches, there will be a humanitarian disaster in Khuzaa because we can’t control the route of floods after the war has changed the structure of the landscape and destroyed all constituents of life in the town including water, electricity and telecommunication networks and infrastructure.”

Israel routinely bars the entry of building materials into the embattled coastal enclave on grounds that Palestinian resistance faction Hamas could use them to build underground tunnels or fortifications.

For years, the Gaza Strip has depended on construction materials smuggled into the territory through a network of tunnels linking it to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

However, the recent crackdown on the tunnels by the Egyptian army has effectively neutralized hundreds of tunnels, severely affecting Gaza’s construction sector.

Source: Al-Akhbar English

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