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Israel reduces restrictions around Gaza and increases work permits for West Bankers

What happened: Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced last night that it will extend Gaza’s fishing zone from six to 12 miles starting tomorrow, and will allow the entry of non-humanitarian goods to the strip starting Sunday.

  • The easing of restrictions around Gaza come after the return of quiet along the border following the firing of several incendiary balloons on Monday.
  • COGAT will also facilitate international travel for Palestinians living in Gaza on a one-time basis. They will pass through Israel’s border with Jordan using the 29 private vehicles left at the Erez crossing from the last operation.
  • Yesterday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett met with mayors from Israeli towns and cities in the Gaza periphery. He said: “I support humanitarian aid to Gaza, and as much as possible, but an equation must be made that at one moment we stop everything, and they then realise they have something to lose.”
  • The Prime Minister further explained: “We will continue to strike terrorism with one hand, and improve the conditions in Gaza with the other. The source of the problem is Iran. We have fought till this day with the octopus’ tentacles and not with the Iranian head. The approach needs to be changed.”
  • In the West Bank, Israel will issue 15,000 more permits for Palestinians to work in its construction and 1,000 permits for its hotel industries. The new permits will bring the number of Palestinians allowed to work in Israel to 106,000, with another 30,000 Palestinians authorised to work in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
  • Yesterday, Palestinian mourners clashed with Israeli Police in the town of Beit Ummar, near Hebron, during the funeral of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Alami, who was reportedly killed on Wednesday by IDF gunfire. One man is believed to have died during the clashes and another 12 wounded, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

Context: The measures by the government is part of a new spirit of goodwill being fostered towards Palestinians.

  • The announcement of new permits followed discussions between Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. Gantz is the third senior Israeli officials to have spoken to Abbas since the new government in Israel was installed, after President Isaac Herzog and Public Security Minister Omar Barlev.
  • The head of COGAT, Maj.-Gen. Rassan Alian, said the additional work permits “will strengthen the Israeli and Palestinian economies, and will largely contribute to the security and stability” in the West Bank.
  • As part of the new government’s reset of ties with the PA, on Wednesday Health Minister Natan Horowitz and Environment Minister Tamar Zandberg met with Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila and Jamil Matour, head of the PA’s Environmental Quality Authority, in Jerusalem’s Hotel Yehuda.
  • In the meeting, ministers Horowitz and Zandberg agreed to accept the vaccination certificates produced by the PA, authorise the provision of medical services to schools in East Jerusalem, and agreed to relax restrictions on Palestinian medical teams’ access to East Jerusalem and Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank.
  • Meanwhile in Gaza, Hamas is threatening that there would be a return to rocket attacks if the transfer of construction goods and the Qatari aid is not approved. Negotiations between Israel, Egypt and Hamas are still ongoing over the issue of transferring Qatari aid to the Gaza Strip.
  • The army’s Military Police division, which examines the conduct of Israeli soldiers, has opened an investigation into the shooting of Mohammed al-Alami. According to the IDF, a group of soldiers near Beit Ummar saw several Palestinians digging near a military post close to the town entrance before leaving the scene in a car. When the soldiers approached the site, they found the body of a day-old baby in a plastic bag.
  • A short while later, the soldiers saw a similar car. Believing it to be the Palestinians who had recently buried the baby, they sought to arrest its passengers, but fired at the vehicle’s wheels after it didn’t stop, the military said. However, Palestinian media report that 13 bullets were shot at their car, one of which punctured al-Alami’s chest.
  • Twenty-year-old Shawkat Khalil Awad was the fourth Palestinian to die in confrontations with Israeli soldiers this week in the West Bank, and the third in Beit Ummar, according to PA figures.

Looking ahead: Tensions in Jerusalem could renew next week as the Supreme Court is due to hold a hearing on the appeal of four Palestinian families to leave their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.

  • However, reports earlier this week suggested that Prime Minister Bennett would not order the eviction of the Sheikh Jarrah families.
  • The Regional Cooperation Ministry has said follow-up meetings with the PA are scheduled for the coming months, and that other Israeli ministers will soon meet with their Palestinian counterparts.

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