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Amid calm on Gaza border, Israel expands fishing zone, imports and exports

Move comes amid international pressure to increase assistance to the Strip, follows meeting between Israeli, Egyptian foreign ministers; Qatari envoy reaches Gaza on Sunday night

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Fisherman load a horse-drawn cart before delivering their haul to market after a limited number of boats were allowed to return to the sea following a ceasefire reached after an 11-day war between Hamas and Israel, in Gaza City, May 23, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Fisherman load a horse-drawn cart before delivering their haul to market after a limited number of boats were allowed to return to the sea following a ceasefire reached after an 11-day war between Hamas and Israel, in Gaza City, May 23, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Israel on Monday announced a series of relief measures for the Gaza Strip, expanding the coastal enclave’s fishing zone and approving additional imports and exports as relative calm persisted along the border.

The move came amid growing international calls for additional humanitarian assistance for the beleaguered enclave, which saw a large-scale conflict between Israel and the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups in May that caused massive destruction to parts of the Strip.

Following the 11-day battle, Israel announced it was instituting a new policy vis-à-vis Gaza, significantly limiting what types of aid could enter the enclave until two Israeli civilians and the remains of two fallen Israel Defense Forces soldiers are returned from Hamas captivity. Only food, medical supplies, fuel, animal fodder and “raw materials for critical industries” have been allowed into the territory.

Other items, such as frames to rebuild greenhouses destroyed by IDF bombings, are still being barred from entering, a UN official told The Times of Israel, lamenting that Jerusalem had a “very narrow definition of what constitutes humanitarian assistance.”

Qatari envoy Mohammad al-Emadi also arrived in the coastal enclave on Sunday night, Palestinian media reported. The continued channeling of Qatari money into Gaza — some $360 million was pledged for 2021 — is a sticking point in the ongoing negotiations.

Overall exports from the Gaza Strip were also down 90 percent, the UN official said, noting that only small amounts of agricultural exports and textiles are being allowed out of Gaza but that those goods are barred from entering Israel — a main source of income for the enclave’s export economy.

However, the Rafah and Salah a-Din crossings to Egypt have remained open for goods and pedestrians in recent weeks, though the extent of this was not immediately clear.

On Monday, Israel’s military liaison body to the Palestinians, known as the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, announced that it was easing those measures somewhat.

A truck loaded with humanitarian aid, passes into Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, through the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza from Israel, on May 21, 2021, after a ceasefire brokered by Egypt between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas terror group (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Beginning Monday, the area in which Gaza fishermen are permitted to sail was expanded from nine nautical miles to 12. Additional medical equipment, fishing gear, and raw materials for local industries and textile production were allowed into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom Crossing with Israel, COGAT said.

In addition, more textiles and agricultural products could be exported through the crossing.

“These civilian measures that were approved by the political echelon are contingent upon continued security stability,” COGAT said.

In the weeks following May’s conflict, terrorists in the Strip began launching balloons carrying incendiary devices into Israeli territory, sparking dozens of fires and burning large swaths of agricultural land and nature reserves.

In response, the IDF conducted airstrikes on Hamas infrastructure in Gaza and Israel sent messages to the terror group that such attacks would not be tolerated.

As more terms of the ceasefire began going into effect, these arson attacks abated, and the past week and a half has seen no cross-border incidents.

The decision to expand the fishing zone and imports and exports came after a meeting between Foreign Minister Yair Lapid with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in Brussels.

According to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, the two focused on the efforts to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip.

Israel and Egypt have imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip since 2007, when Hamas took control of the enclave. Both countries say the measure is necessary to prevent the terror group from obtaining weapons and materials to build fortifications and tunnels. Most of the munitions used in May’s conflict were inferior, domestically produced arms.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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