Israel to Consider Reopening Gaza Crossings if Violence Stops

Israel's defense minister said he would consider reopening Gaza's border crossings if violence from the territory ceases, but defense officials warned Tuesday that such a move is a long way off.

The officials said Ehud Barak's statement was aimed at bolstering the moderate Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank. Barak has previously opposed opening Gaza's borders since the Hamas militant group, which often fires rockets into southern Israel, violently seized control of the area last June.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

The officials said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed Barak during a visit this week to consider easing Israel's blockade of Gaza, which has caused widespread economic hardship in the territory of 1.4 million Palestinians.

"When conditions have matured in the future for an end to the rockets, the terror and the reduction of the weapons' smuggling, we will be willing to consider easements in the Gaza crossings through cooperation with representatives of (Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam) Fayyad's government," Barak said.

The defense officials said Israel would not be fully opening the crossings in the near future since the violence has persisted.

Israel considers Hamas a terrorist group and closed Gaza's crossings after the Islamic militant group overran Gaza. It has only let in limited humanitarian supplies since.

In new violence Tuesday, Israeli troops shot and killed two Hamas gunmen during a raid on the central Gaza Strip, Hamas said. The army said the gunmen approached troops operating against rocket launching squads.

Also Tuesday, a Palestinian mortar attack wounded two civilians in a southern Israeli farming community, the army said.

Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah terminal on the Egypt-Gaza border for a single day to let around 350 Egyptians stuck in the Gaza Strip for two months to return home, an Egyptian security official said.