Israel relaxes some Gaza restrictions, as ceasefire diplomacy continues

Israel allows export of agricultural products and textiles through Kerem Shalom crossing; Palestinian official says mail, including passports, to be allowed into Strip

A truck passes into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering the Strip from Israel, on May 18, 2021. (Said Khatib/AFP)
A truck passes into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering the Strip from Israel, on May 18, 2021. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The Israeli government on Monday relaxed some restrictions on goods and mail entering and leaving the Gaza Strip, after a tight ban that lasted since last month’s round of fighting.

After a security meeting Sunday, a decision was made by the political leaders to allow agricultural and textile exports from the Strip starting Monday morning, defense officials said.

Agricultural goods will be allowed for export to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and overseas, but not to Israel. However, textiles will be allowed into Israel following a specific request from an Israeli textile company that works with suppliers in Gaza, the officials said.

The goods will be allowed through the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Palestinians said they had been informed of additional restrictions being lifted.

“The Israeli side informed the Civil Affairs Commission… that mail is allowed to enter and exit the Gaza Strip… after a ban that lasted more than a month and a half,” Saleh al-Ziq, a senior Gaza-based official in the Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Commission, said in a statement.

Al-Ziq added that Gazans stuck abroad since the 11-day escalation of violence between Israel and the Hamas terror group, which started May 10, would now be allowed to reenter the enclave via the Erez Crossing from Israel.

Exports of clothing and food to Israel and the West Bank will also recommence, he said.

The Palestinian official said that passports held by Israeli mail will be released. Around 5,000 authorized travel documents are currently being held in Ramallah, waiting to be sent to their owners, the Haaretz daily reported last week.

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)

The easing comes as Israel and the Gaza Strip have seen continued tensions. Gaza-based terror groups have launched explosive balloons into Israeli territory, igniting wildfires in areas close to the Strip, and Israel has responded with airstrikes against Hamas targets.

While a ceasefire between the two sides ended the fighting in late May, international mediators have warned that it remains fragile, and have said that they seek to strengthen it.

United Nations peace process envoy Tor Wennesland “is continuing his diplomatic engagements with all sides towards that aim,” a UN spokesperson said last week.

Israel and Egypt have blockaded the coastal enclave since 2006, imposing tight restrictions on the movement of people and goods. Both countries say the blockade prevents Hamas terrorists from posing an even more serious security threat.

But rights groups lament the impact the restrictions have had on Gaza’s civilian population. The tight sanctions have led to high unemployment and crumbling infrastructure, and bureaucratic entanglements can make leaving the Strip through its Israeli and Egyptian crossings a very difficult task.

During the recent round of fighting between Israel and Hamas in May, Israel shut down all the crossings with the Gaza Strip. Only a few exceptions were made for specific aid convoys to enter the coastal enclave during the fighting. Gaza-based terror groups bombarded some of the convoys, wounding one Israeli soldier, the Israeli military said.

Israeli trucks carrying diesel fuel enter the Kerem Shalom crossing on the Israel-Gaza border, October 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Since the 11-day escalation, a few restrictions have been eased. Gazans seeking medical care were allowed to leave the enclave for treatment in hospitals in Israel and in the West Bank.

But Israel still maintains tight control over goods, including mail, that enter and leave the Strip. Defense Minister Benny Gantz has said that Israel will not permit a full reconstruction of Gaza — with the influx of materials that would entail — without the return of two Israeli civilian captives and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers currently held by Hamas.

Hamas, for its part, has rejected any connection between the reconstruction of Gaza and a potential prisoner exchange with Israel.

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