Israel further eases Gaza restrictions despite unrest

Israel has maintained a tight blockade on the territory since 2007, the year Hamas took power.

FILE: A Palestinian bakery worker holds bags of bread past the ruins of a building destroyed during the recent Israeli bombings, in Gaza City on 27 May 2021. Picture: Mohammed Abed/AFP

JERUSALEM - Israel said Wednesday it would expand Gaza's fishing zone, increase its water supply and allow more Palestinian traders and goods to enter Israel, even as violence persisted on the border.

"It has been decided to expand the fishing zone in the Gaza Strip to 15 nautical miles, as well as to completely open the Kerem Shalom Crossing, for the passage of equipment and goods," read a statement from COGAT, the Israeli military body responsible for civilian affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories.

"In addition, the water supply to the Gaza Strip will be increased by additional 5 million cubic meters," it added.

It said the number of Gazan merchants with permits to pass through the Erez crossing would be increased from 2,000 to 7,000.

In May, Israel and Hamas, the Islamist rulers of Gaza, reached a truce following 11 days of the deadliest fighting in years. But incendiary balloons have continued to fly from the Palestinian territory towards Israel in the months since, with Israel blaming Hamas and often retaliating with air strikes.

Israel nonetheless began expanding the fishing zone off Gaza in July, with COGAT letting traders and goods from Gaza into the country for the first time in over a year beginning 15 August.

Less than a week later, on 21 August, clashes accompanying a demonstration on the Gaza border wounded around 40 people, according to Hamas, including a 12-year-old Palestinian boy and a 32-year-old man.

An Israeli sniper was also shot dead during the incident. The border incident was a return to the marches of 2018, when Gazans began a protest movement demanding an end to Israel's blockade and the right of Palestinians to return to lands they fled or were expelled from when the Jewish state was founded. Near-nightly clashes have taken place since.

The Israeli army said that on Tuesday night, "hundreds of rioters and demonstrators" gathered at the fence where "rioters" threw "explosive devices and burning tyres" and the army responded with live rounds.

COGAT stressed that the "civilian measures" were "conditional upon the continued preservation of the region's security stability for the long term".

Israel has maintained a tight blockade on the territory since 2007, the year Hamas took power.

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