Israel Approves Steps To Ease Gaza Strip Blockade

School children look from the windows of a mosque at the body of Palestinian Omar al-Nile, 12, who was shot on Saturday during a violent demonstration on the eastern border between Gaza and Israel, during his funeral in Gaza City, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
School children look from the windows of a mosque at the body of Palestinian Omar al-Nile, 12, who was shot on Saturday during a violent demonstration on the eastern border between Gaza and Israel, during his funeral in Gaza City, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel on Wednesday approved a series of measures easing its blockade of the Gaza Strip, including opening the main commercial crossing with the Palestinian enclave to imports.

The announcement came a day after Israeli officials allowed the import of crucial construction material needed for the Gaza Strip's rebuilding following the recent conflict in May. Tensions have run high in recent weeks as Hamas activists have launched incendiary balloons into Israel, sparking a number of wildfires across the border, and staged a series of sometimes violent demonstrations along the border fence with Israel.

COGAT, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, said in a statement that the government approved expanding the Gaza Strip's fishing zone, opening the Kerem Shalom Crossing, increasing water supply to the territory, and increasing the number of Gazan merchants allowed to enter Israel.

It said these steps were “conditional upon the continued preservation of the region’s security stability for the long term.”

An Israeli soldier who was shot by a protester on Aug. 21 died of his wounds on Monday. Two Palestinians, including a 12-year-old boy and a Hamas militant, have also been killed from Israeli gunfire during recent protests along the border.

Israel and Egypt have blockaded the Gaza Strip since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007, a year after winning a Palestinian election. Israel says the blockade is needed to keep Hamas, an Islamic militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction, from rearming, while critics say the closure amounts to collective punishment. The blockade, which restricts the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza, has devastated Gaza’s economy.

Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since 2008, and Israel has tightened the blockade since the latest fighting in May.