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Israel authorizes 3,000 additional entry permits for Gaza workers

Expanded quota brings total of recently announced permits to 10,000; Israel’s liaison to Palestinians says measure dependent on preservation of long-term stability

Palestinian men gather to apply for work permits in Israel, at Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, on October 6, 2021. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
Palestinian men gather to apply for work permits in Israel, at Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, on October 6, 2021. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Israel will increase the number of Palestinian workers it permits to enter its territory from the Gaza Strip, Israel’s liaison to the Palestinians announced Wednesday, a gesture aimed at bolstering a fragile calm between the sides.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said an additional 3,000 Gazans will be allowed into Israel to work, bringing the total of recently announced permits to 10,000.

“The decision to increase the quota of merchants was made by the political echelon following a security assessment on the matter,” COGAT said in a statement.

The move came as Israel and Hamas continued indirect negotiations to stabilize the fragile ceasefire between the two sides reached after an 11-day war last May. Israeli officials have pledged to ease some restrictions on Gaza’s civilian population in exchange for a quiescent southern border and progress on a prisoner exchange deal with the terror group.

At the same time, the current Israeli government — led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett — has vowed to “shrink the conflict” by taking measures to ease Palestinian daily life. In a similar move, COGAT legalized the status of 4,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza on Tuesday.

Israel and Egypt have placed tight controls on movement in and out of Gaza for nearly a decade and a half. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent an even greater threat from Gaza’s Hamas rulers, who have fought repeated wars with the Jewish state.

Rights groups, however, lament the blockade’s impact on civilians in the impoverished enclave. Roughly half of Gazans are unemployed, including many young people with college degrees. Israeli restrictions keep a tight lid on materials entering the Strip, leaving hospitals under-equipped. The recent war-battered Gaza, causing at least $290 million in material damage, according to the World Bank.

Illustrative: Palestinians are seen on the Israeli side of the Erez Crossing near the border with the Gaza Strip on September 3, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier this month, rumors that Israel intended to issue work permits to Gazans brought crowds of tens of thousands to the Palestinian Authority’s Civil Affairs office in the Strip.

Though the Israeli military officially refers to the Palestinians it allows into Israel as “merchants,” they are overwhelmingly employed as day laborers, as both defense officials and nongovernmental organizations have acknowledged.

After the May war, Israel imposed heightened restrictions on Gaza. Israeli officials repeatedly vowed that “there’s no going back to the way things were” on policy toward the enclave. In the months since, although tensions on the southern border have risen and fallen, matters have largely returned to the status quo ante.

A number of outstanding issues remain unresolved between Israel and Hamas, however. Before the war, Qatar paid the salaries of thousands of Hamas employees in the Gaza Strip. While Israel and the United Nations agreed on resuming other Qatari payments to Gaza — such as subsidizing fuel and providing welfare for poor welfares — the salaries remain a key Hamas demand.

Meanwhile, Israel has said it will not consent to a full reconstruction of Gaza without a prisoner deal between the two sides. Hamas holds captive two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, as well as the bodies of two Israeli soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

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