Israel announced on Wednesday that it will expand Gaza's fishing zone and increase the water supply to the Strip, easing the tight blockade it has maintained on the Hamas-controlled enclave since its 11-day war in May.
The decision, announced by Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories on Wednesday and effective immediately, will see Gaza's fishing zone expanded and additional goods and equipment allowed to enter the Strip.
An additional 5,000 Gazan merchants will be granted entry permits into Israel, which would bring the total number of businesspeople allowed in Israel to 7,000. The issuing of permits, however, is conditioned upon a proof of coronavirus immunity.
Israel will also enlarge the supply of fresh water it provides to the enclave by five million cubic meters (about 175 million cubic feet).
The decision comes during a tense period in which Hamas members have launched incendiary balloons into Israel, sparking a number of fires across the border, and staged a series of sometimes violent demonstrations along the separation fence with Israel.
An Israeli Border Policeman who was shot by a protester on August 21 died of his wounds on Monday. Two Palestinians, including a 12-year-old boy and a Hamas militant, have also been killed from Israeli gunfire.
The statement also noted that COGAT was planning to allow more goods into Gaza if the security situation stabilized.
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On Tuesday, Israel also allowed dozens of truckloads of construction materials into the Gaza Strip, after Israel said last week that it would be easing commercial restrictions on the Gaza Strip and expand entry of goods to the Palestinian enclave.
Bassam Ghabin, director of the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing, said that 30 truckloads of cement, 120 trucks of gravel and 15 trucks of steel entered Gaza on Tuesday. He said the materials began entering on Monday, and that the crossing was operating almost at the same capacity as before the war.
An Israeli security official, speaking on condition of anonymity under policy guidelines, confirmed that building materials had entered Gaza. He had no specific details, but said they came under previously announced government decisions.
Two weeks ago, Israel allowed 1,000 Palestinian merchants and 350 senior businesspeople from Gaza to enter Israel, all of whom had been barred from entering the country since March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic first erupted in Israel.
In May, when hostilities broke out between Hamas and Israel, Defense Minister Benny Gantz banned the import of raw materials, construction materials, and "non-humanitarian" goods into the Strip, which severely damaged its water and sewage infrastructure. Due to the ban, most of the damage to these systems caused last May has not been repaired – essential maintenance cannot be performed, the desalination and water purification facilities are only partially operational, and all development and expansion projects have been discontinued.
Israel, with Egyptian help, has maintained a tight blockade over Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007, a year after winning a Palestinian election. Israel says the blockade is needed to keep Hamas, an Islamic militant group sworn to Israel's destruction, from rearming, while critics say the closure amounts to collective punishment. The blockade, which restricts the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza, has devastated Gaza's economy.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.