JERUSALEM (AP) - Israel will provide hundreds of additional work permits for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, an Israeli defense body said Tuesday, in a new step aimed at solidifying an informal cease-fire with the Hamas militant group.
COGAT, the Israeli defense body responsible for civilian Palestinian affairs, said it was lifting certain restrictions on the territory starting Wednesday following days of “relative quiet” in the area surrounding Gaza.
The additional work permits bring the total to 7,000 from 5,000.
Israel blames the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, for ongoing fire emanating from the Gaza Strip, including a spate of explosive balloons launched from Gaza that have damaged Israeli properties.
Tens of thousands of Gazans used to work in Israel. But Israel virtually sealed the border when it joined Egypt in imposing a crippling blockade on Gaza after Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007. The blockade, along with three wars between Hamas and Israel, has devastated the economy in Gaza, where unemployment is over 50%.
In recent months, Israel has quietly provided some relief as part of an unofficial, Egyptian-brokered truce with Hamas, in exchange for reduced rocket fire from the territory and the scaling back of weekly protests along the border.
Those include “merchant” permits that allow Palestinian businessmen to trade in Israel. Many of the permits are used by laborers who do menial jobs inside Israel.
With the additional permits, Israel appears to be expanding that program to ease the economic crisis in Gaza.
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