Israel has allowed a limited resumption of commercial exports from the besieged Gaza Strip in what it called a “conditional” measure, one month after a truce halted an 11-day offensive on the Strip.
“Following a security evaluation, a decision has been made for the first time since the end of (the fighting) to enable … (the) limited export of agricultural produce from the Gaza Strip,” COGAT, a branch of Israel’s Defence Ministry, said on Monday.
COGAT said the measure was approved by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government and was “conditional upon the preservation of security stability”.
Palestinian officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk to the media, said 11 truckloads of clothes were exported through Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) crossing for the first time in 40 days. On Sunday, Israel said it would allow limited agricultural exports from Gaza.
The easing also included the resumption of mail service in and out of Gaza, according to Saleh al-Zeq, an official from the Palestinian Authority’s liaison committee. Thousands of passports and paperwork have been delayed since the fighting between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza, broke out on May 10.
However, other restrictions by Israel remain in place and are taking a toll on different sectors in Gaza.
On Monday, a Pepsi bottling plant said it was closing and laying off 250 workers because raw materials needed to stay in business were being kept away. Instead, the company will import ready-made products from its factory in the occupied West Bank.
“The raw materials have not been allowed. We have been waiting for them for 60 days,” said Hammam Alyazji, development manager at the factory. The materials include carbon dioxide and syrup.
The resumption of exports does not include fish, said Nezzar Ayyash of the fishermen’s union. He said Israel reduced the fishing by more than half, keeping it at six nautical miles (11kilometres) instead of 20 miles (37km), as agreed upon in the Oslo Accords.
“This is very bad for the livelihood of fishermen; buying power is low in Gaza and the fishermen barely make up their fuel expenses,” he said.
Other restrictions include a limit on the number of medical patients who can get treatment in Israel or the occupied West Bank.
‘No intentions to solve humanitarian crisis’
Following a meeting with United Nations mediators, Hamas’s leader in Gaza Yahya al-Sinwar said the easing of Israeli restrictions was not enough and did nothing to change the situation in Gaza, pointing out that Israel continues to block international aid, as well as critical fuel deliveries needed for the electricity plant.
“The meeting was bad, it was not at all positive,” he told reporters.
“They listened to us attentively, but there are no signs that there are intentions towards solving the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip,” Sinwar added.
He added that Israel was “blackmailing” Hamas in exchange for further lifting of restrictions.
Sinwar was apparently referring to Israel’s position that a major improvement in Gaza hinged on Hamas releasing two Israelis and the bodies of two soldiers it holds captive. Sinwar said he told the UN’s top regional envoy, Tor Wennesland, that Hamas “will not accept that”.
Israel keeps tight controls on Gaza crossings, with support from neighbouring Egypt, citing threats from Hamas. The Israeli restrictions were intensified during the May fighting, effectively halting all exports.
Sinwar also accused Israel of keeping out aid from Qatar, which in recent years has bankrolled Gaza reconstruction projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
“It seems the occupation (Israel) didn’t understand our message, and that we maybe need to carry out popular resistance to put pressure on the occupation,” Sinwar said.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office did not provide comment on Sinwar’s remarks.
At a memorial service on Sunday for Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war, Bennett, who was sworn in last week and replaced longtime prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel would not tolerate any resumption of hostilities.
“(We) will not tolerate even a few rockets. We will not show forbearance nor exercise containment towards splinter factions,” he said, alluding to past attacks by armed groups other than Hamas.
“Our patience has run out.”
Egypt and the United Nations stepped up mediation last week after Israeli air raids pounded the Gaza Strip, challenging the fragile ceasefire.
The war killed 257 Palestinians including 66 children. Thirteen people were killed in Israel, including two children.