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Israel to further ease restrictions on Gaza border crossing, extend fishing zone

IDF says changes to take effect Friday are at direction of Israeli political leaders; Gantz: No major reconstruction in Strip unless Hamas returns missing Israelis, troops’ bodies

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

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)

Israel will further reopen the Kerem Shalom Border Crossing to goods and expand the Gaza fishing zone tomorrow, after several days of quiet along the Gaza border, the military announced Thursday.

Starting Friday, Israel will allow raw materials for critical industries into the Gaza Strip through Kerem Shalom. Until now, Israel has significantly limited the entrance of goods into the enclave following last month’s 11-day conflict, saying it would only expand the type of products allowed into Gaza if the Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip, releases two Israeli civilians held in captivity, along with the remains of two soldiers.

In addition, the Israel Defense Forces said it would extend the area in which Palestinian fishermen are permitted to operate from six nautical miles (11 kilometers) to nine (16.7 kilometers).

The changes were at the direction of Israel’s political leadership, the military said.

The moves came days after Israel eased some restrictions on the flow of goods and mail to and from Gaza.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Benny Gantz reiterated that Israel would not allow large-scale reconstruction of Gaza unless Hamas returns Avera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and the remains of IDF troops Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul who died in 2014. Hamas, which is believed to have held them captive for more than six years, has rejected such a condition.

“Operation Guardian of the Walls ended, but it hasn’t finished,” Gantz said during a speech at a graduation ceremony for Israeli Air Force pilots, using Israel’s name for last month’s fighting in the Strip.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at a memorial ceremony for Israeli soldiers killed in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, at the National Hall of Remembrance at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, on June 24, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“The Hamas terror group in Gaza needs to understand: We are determined. If Hamas wants reconstruction and economic development, the time has come that it takes concrete steps to maintain the calm, to halt the rearmament and to return the boys home,” he said.

The defense minister added: “We are also prepared to change the situation for the better for Gaza residents, but we won’t accept any form of terror or the captivity of our boys in clear violation of international law.”

The remarks came a day after Gantz met with the UN’s Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland, underscoring “the need to maintain calm and to work to return the captives and missing Israelis in the Gaza Strip,” according to a statement from the defense minister’s office.

Wennesland met Monday with Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in the Strip, who said their talks to strengthen the ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza-ruling terror group, which openly seeks the Jewish state’s destruction, went poorly.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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