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Israel to permit entry of Gaza merchants for first time in 18 months

Entrance authorization for 1,350 will be given only to those vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19; military says import and export restrictions on certain goods also lifted

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)
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)

Israel will allow the entry of merchants and businessmen from the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing for the first time in some 18 months, the military announced Friday.

The permits for 1,350 Palestinians comes after several days of quiet along the border.

Starting Sunday, 1,000 Palestinian merchants and 350 businessmen, provided they are vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, will be permitted to enter Israel.

After the outbreak of the virus, the pedestrian border crossing between Gaza and Israel was closed down, preventing the traders from continuing their operations, causing a significant impact to Gaza’s already faltering economy.

Many Palestinian merchants regularly traveled from Gaza to the West Bank by traversing Israel before COVID-19 hit the region.

Palestinian Authority health minister Mai al-Kaila on Thursday said some 100,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses were to be transferred from the West Bank to Gaza. So far 11.2% of the Palestinian population in both regions have been fully vaccinated, according to Reuters.

The military tied the move to the relative quiet in the region, after a week had passed since balloons carrying incendiary devices launched from the coastal enclave sparked a number of fires in southern Israel.

Palestinian men prepare to release balloon-borne explosive and incendiary devices toward Israel near Rafah, along the Israel-Gaza border, on August 21, 2020 (Fadi Fahd/Flash90)

In addition, Israel will allow further imports and exports through the Kerem Shalom crossing. Until now, Israel has significantly limited the entrance of goods into the enclave following May’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.

But starting Sunday, the import of transportation and communications equipment will be permitted, as well as materials for humanitarian infrastructure in Gaza, such as sewage and water, the military’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said.

COGAT said the moves were “conditioned on continuing security stability in the region.”

Hamas has warned of a return to fighting should Israel seek to again tighten restrictions on the blockaded Strip.

Israel in recent months has frequently imposed and then lifted restrictions, including limiting the Strip’s fishing zone, following attacks on the border.

On Wednesday, a drone belonging to the Hamas terror group was downed after crossing into Israeli airspace, the military said.

A drone recovered by Israeli troops in southern Israel on August 13, 2021, which the military says was flown by the Hamas terror group into Israeli airspace from the Gaza Strip two days prior. (Israel Defense Forces)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has repeatedly said that he will respond to attacks with force.

“Israel is interested in calm and has no interest in harming Gaza residents, but violence… will be met with a strong response,” Bennett told the cabinet following strikes in July in response to arson balloon launches.

Israel has in the past used fishing zone restrictions as a punitive measure against Gaza following attacks or border riots. Critics say the policy is a form of collective punishment borne mostly by people unconnected to the border tensions.

Israel and Egypt impose tight restrictions on Gaza, which they say are necessary to prevent a greater threat from the Strip’s Hamas rulers. The terror group took over Gaza in a 2007 coup against the Palestinian Authority.

Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.

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