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New easing of Gaza restrictions despite nightly Hamas riots

What happened: This morning the IDF announced further easing of measures for Gaza despite ongoing tensions on the Gaza border between members of Hamas’ nightly harassment units and IDF forces.

  • The new measures including extending the fishing zone around the strip to 15 nautical miles, increasing permits from 2,000 to 7,000 for Gazan businessmen to travel abroad, increasing the water supply to Gaza residents by an additional 5m cubic meters, and fully opening the Keren Shalom crossing.
  • Yesterday, the IDF also approved the transfer of construction materials into the Gaza Strip intended for Gaza’s citizens. Since the May conflict, such material had only been approved for humanitarian or UN projects. The new measures return the situation to what is was before May.
  • Along with the easing, Hamas continues to riot on the border, with three Gazans injured last night. Hamas’s Spokesperson Abd al-Latif al-Qanou welcomed the “revolutionary” youth’s participation in the nightly protests and noted the connection between their activities in Gaza and the same activities in Jabal Sabih (near the settlement of Eviatar) in the West Bank.
  • On Monday, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said: “We have improved and continue to improve our warfare capabilities as well as operational plans in the Strip. Unless calm is maintained in the south – we will not hesitate to launch another campaign.”
  • New information has emerged over the meeting between Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Sources in the PA say the pair spoke about the return of the Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. Specifically, Abbas requested the release of the fourth batch of security prisoners from before the Oslo period, which Israel refrained from releasing in 2014 as part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s gestures to try and restart peace talks.
  • The PA sources also said that Abbas spoke about the need to stop attacks from settlers and the cessation of settlement, as well as a commitment from the new Israeli government to a two-state solution.

Context: Gantz is the first cabinet minister to official meet with Abbas since 2010. The meeting was also attended by Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Ghassan Aliyan, PA Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh and Commander of the General Intelligence Service Maj. Gen. Majed Faraj.

  • Israel agreed to undertake several measures to strengthen the PA’s economy, including a NIS 0.5bn loan that will be repaid via deductions from the taxes that Israel levies on behalf of the PA, increasing employment permits by 15,000 workers, and new building permits for Palestinian homes in Area C.
  • The PA is coming under increasing pressure from Palestinians over how it has responded to protests critical of its activities.
  • Last weekend, the PA arrested 30 people who were protesting against the death of Banat, the activist and outspoken PA critic, who died in June after PA forces raided the home where he was staying and violently arrested him. The demonstrators included well-known academics, filmmakers and poets.
  • The PA’s fragility has worsened since April when Abbas postponed parliamentary elections. Israel is concerned that a weaker PA will open the door for Hamas to gain strength in the West Bank. Gantz said: “The stronger the Palestinian Authority is, the weaker Hamas will be, and the more governance [i.e. control] it has, the more security there will be, and the less we will have to operate.”
  • However, not everyone in the government was pleased that Gantz met with Abbas. Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel, both of the right-wing New Hope party, were critical of the meeting. Alleviating fears that the meeting was the start of a new diplomatic track, an official from the Prime Minister’s Office said there would not be any peace negotiations with the Palestinians. “This is a meeting that deals with security issues. There is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians, nor will there be,” the official said in a statement, adding that the meeting was approved in advance by Bennett.
  • Meanwhile, left-wing members of the coalition spoke out in support of Gantz’s decision to meet with Abbas. Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) said: “I welcome the meeting held by the defence minister with the president of the Palestinian Authority. After a lengthy and damaging break [in communication] with our closest neighbours, the time has arrived to renew dialogue and cooperation with the PA. That is what I did in my meeting with the Palestinian health minister a few weeks ago, and that is what needs to be done in all spheres—civilian, economic, security and political.”
  • Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej (Meretz) said, “This meeting might be a turning point in relations between Israel and the PA. Just one thing was missing — a picture. No more to relations beneath the table, but public talks.”
  • Border Police officer Barel Hadaria Shmueli died on Monday following a 10-day battle to save his life after he was shot in the head on the Gaza border. After his funeral on Monday night, Shmueli’s family demanded a military commission of inquiry into his death. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted: “There are no words sufficient to comfort the family in its deep mourning. Barel was a fighter in his life and in his death. He fought for his life until the last moment, as all of Israel prayed for him. I would like to embrace the family, which has lost what was most precious to it.”

Looking ahead: Despite the new measures for Gaza, Hamas’s popular protests along the whole border will intensify in the coming days.

  • Spokesperson Abd al-Latif al-Qanou said in an interview with Al-Aqsa TV last night: “Popular pressure activities will only intensify in the coming days, as long as the Palestinian people do not enjoy decent living conditions.”
  • According to Palestinian sources, Gantz and Abbas agreed in principle to hold another meeting in the future to assess the situation and examine how things had progressed.

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