Israel reopens Gaza border crossings


U.S. President Barack Obama, left, listens to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during their bilateral meeting at the Muqata Presidential Compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, March 21, 2013. Obama is meeting Palestinian officials on the second day of his Mideast tour to emphasize the importance of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, a message underscored Thursday when Palestinian militants in Gaza launched rockets into southern Israel. (AP Fle Photo

JERUSALEM  — Israel on Thursday fully reopened its border crossings with the Gaza Strip that were closed following militant rocket fire during President Barack Obama’s visit to the region last week, the military said.

Hours before the U.S. leader visited the West Bank, Palestinian militants fired two rockets from Gaza into a southern Israeli city, causing damage but no injuries. The attack prompted Israel to close its only border crossing for commercial goods with the coastal territory, and to restrict its only civilian crossing to humanitarian cases only. It also limited the stretch of the sea where Gaza fishermen were allowed to fish.

The Israeli military said it has now reopened the commercial crossing and is allowing Palestinians with entry permits to cross into Israel through the civilian crossing, but the fishing restrictions are still in place.

A small al-Qaida-inspired group calling itself the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem had claimed responsibility for last week’s rocket fire.

In a statement emailed to The Associated Press, it said it was sending a message to “Osama’s soldiers” — a reference to al-Qaida’s late mastermind Osama bin Laden — to protest the visit by “the Roman dog Obama” and to continue its campaign of holy war, or jihad.

The claim could not be independently verified but Israel holds Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers responsible for all attacks coming from the coastal area.

Over the past decade, Gaza militants have fired thousands of rockets and mortar shells at Israel. In November, the Israeli military carried out an offensive on Gaza, assassinating Hamas’ military commander and bombing rocket-launching sites and Hamas training facilities, before the two sides reached a truce. The rocket fire last week was the second time Gaza militants breached the November ceasefire.

Also Thursday, Israel’s military said it arrested five Hamas activists in the West Bank city of Hebron the previous day. In the West Bank, Palestinian security forces said the arrested included Hamas legislator Mohammed Jamal Natshe and four local Hamas leaders — Abdul-Khaliq Natsheh, Mohammed Shawar, Amjad Hammouri and Jawad Jabari.

Israel has repeatedly arrested Hamas legislators in the West Bank for belonging to the Islamic militant group, considered a terror organization by Israel and the West. Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian parliament in 2006 elections, but the legislature stopped functioning after Hamas seized Gaza Strip from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction in 2007, leading to a territorial split between the two factions. Fatah now controls only the West Bank.

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