Top army officers back partial lifting of Gaza blockade
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Hamas almost completely replenished stockpile of short-range missiles, digging new attack tunnels, says IDF source

Top army officers back partial lifting of Gaza blockade

On anniversary of war, IDF panel reportedly says allowing Gazans to work in Israel and travel can pave way to lasting calm

In this June 13, 2015, photo, Palestinian travelers present their passports and documents to Palestinian border officers as they wait to cross to the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip. (AP/Adel Hana)
In this June 13, 2015, photo, Palestinian travelers present their passports and documents to Palestinian border officers as they wait to cross to the Egyptian side of the Rafah border crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip. (AP/Adel Hana)

A panel of senior IDF officers believes the path to long-lasting quiet in the Gaza Strip lies through a partial lifting of the blockade, combined with measures to increase freedom of movement and stimulate the coastal area’s dire economic straits, Israeli daily Haaretz reported Wednesday.

The officers made the remarks in a recent briefing with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, the paper said. The comments come as both sides mark a year since the start of the last year’s 50-day conflict between Israel and Hamas.

According to the officers’ recommendations, Israel should allow thousands of Gaza’s residents to pass through its territory and enter Jordan via the Allenby Bridge in the West Bank, if they so choose.

The panel of officers also suggested reopening the Karni border crossing next to Kibbutz Nahal Oz, which has been closed for the past four years, to facilitate transfer of goods and material, along with an expansion of the Kerem Shalom border crossing in the southern Strip.

Meanwhile, another senior IDF source has warned that Hamas, which rules Gaza, has almost completely replenished its stockpile of short-range missiles which was depleted during last summer’s conflict, and is digging new attack tunnels into Israel. It is, however, not currently seeking another round of fighting.

Egypt also shares a land border with Gaza at Rafah, which in the past had enabled residents to leave the Strip but is now shuttered most days of the year due to a high level of mistrust between Cairo and the Hamas leadership.

Thousands of unemployed Gazans should also be given employment permits to work in the nearby agricultural Jewish communities bordering the coastal strip, the panel said.

Gaza suffers from a crippling 40 percent unemployment rate, and thousands of homes destroyed or partially damaged in the fighting are still waiting for renovation, while Hamas diverts construction material for military use.

Even if Ya’alon were to endorse the proposals, such changes of policy require authorization from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the security cabinet.

Since the end of last year’s conflict, more than 70,000 residents of Gaza have entered Israel via the Erez crossing, while 550-600 trucks laden with goods and materials pass daily from Israel into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing. The IDF panel advocated a substantial increase in these figures in order to rehabilitate the Strip and foster an economically driven peace.

In exchange, the officers noted, Israel may ease growing international pressure aimed at repealing the blockade.

“There is a direct correlation between the economic and demographic issues in Gaza to the security situation,” a top IDF officer told the panel.

“As long as the economic problems of Gaza remain unresolved, there remains potential for another bout of fighting, regardless of the level of deterrence we achieved in the previous conflict,” he said.

In line with this, members of the panel noted, a year on from the conflict Hamas can point only to scant achievements, has been left with little to show and is politically isolated on the international stage. Yet despite its diminished position, a senior IDF source told Army Radio on Tuesday that the group is rearming and shares a clear convergence of interests with the Islamic State — a point echoed Tuesday by Ya’alon, who said that Hamas members are “cooperating” with the Islamic State’s Sinai affiliate.

“Hamas is building new [attack] tunnels [into Israel], but is not rebuilding the ones that [were destroyed]. We don’t know of any tunnels that have yet crossed into our territory,” the source said.

“Operation [Protective Edge] created a significant deterrent. Hamas has been restrained and is restraining other [splinter] groups [in the Strip] from acting,” he said.

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