Israel Expands Permits for Gaza Merchants to Highest Number Since Hamas Took Power

Israel has decided to increase the cap for permits given to workers and merchants in Gaza to 7,000, the highest level since Hamas' rule began in 2007, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said Tuesday. 

The fishing zone off Gaza's coast will be expanded to 15 miles and 2,000 additional exit permits will be given to merchants in the enclave on Wednesday in light of "the relative calm in recent days," according to the government. 

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Steps easing restrictions on Gazans were announced last week after Hamas informed Israel that it planned to unilaterally halt the launching of explosive-laden balloons and rockets at Israel amid talks of a long-term truce, but they were not implemented because of rocket fire from Gaza over the weekend.

While the permits are for merchants who are supposed to show proof that they have worked as traders, authorities have approved a large number of them to work in agriculture in border communities. 

Communities near the Gaza border and the military are generally in favor of allowing the entry of Gazans for agricultural work, while the Shin Bet has been more cautious, fearing security breaches.

Last week, both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said that Israel might launch a major military operation in Gaza in the near future. Netanyahu, speaking at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, said he won’t accept “any aggression from Gaza.”

Bennett said while visiting troops that “Hamas leaders’ reckless behavior is bringing us closer to a lethal operation against them. We won’t say when and how.”