JERUSALEM: Israel said on Monday it had expanded the fishing zone off Gaza and would allow additional imports into the blockaded Palestinian territory following “recent security calm.”
The Jewish state regularly restricts fishing and imports for Gazans in response to unrest, including during an 11-day conflict in May that saw Israel launch hundreds of airstrikes on the enclave and Hamas fire thousands of rockets at Israel.
“In light of the recent security calm … the fishing zone in the Gaza Strip will be extended from 9 to 12 nautical miles,” said a statement from the Israeli military branch responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories (COGAT).
The statement added that imports of medical equipment, fishing supples, certain industrial materials and textiles will also be allowed into Gaza.
Gazan agricultural products and textiles have been cleared for export, COGAT said, noting the new measures are contingent on “the continued preservation of security stability.”
There has been sporadic unrest since a ceasefire ended the May conflict, with incendiary balloons launched from Gaza and Israeli reprisal airstrikes, but no casualties have been reported.
Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza since 2007, the year Hamas took power in the strip.
In another development, Israel was accused of stealing Palestinians funds.
On Sunday, Israel’s Security Cabinet froze nearly $200 million in tax transfers to the Palestinians that it said represented the amount of money the Palestinians transferred to the families of alleged attackers last year.
Qadri Abu Bakr, head of the Palestinian commission for detainees’ affairs, calling the Israeli decision a “crime and piracy.”
The Palestinian news agency Wafa said that President Mahmoud Abbas spoke by telephone with Israel’s President Isaac Herzog.
It said Abbas called for a “comprehensive calm” in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem, and called for steps that would create conditions for a “achieving a just and comprehensive peace.”
The statement made no mention of the frozen tax transfers.
In its decision, the Security Cabinet approved a recommendation by Defense Minister Benny Gantz to freeze some 597 million shekels — or roughly $180 million — for what it called “indirect support of terrorism” in 2020.
It said the funds will be frozen on a monthly basis out of payments that Israel transfers to the Palestinians.
For the Palestinians, the families of attackers are widely seen as victims of a half century of Israeli occupation. The Palestinians say that many Palestinians are unfairly held by Israel and that the number of prisoners involved in deadly attacks is a small percentage of those aided by the fund.
Under interim peace agreements, Israel collects hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes for the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority. The tax transfers are a key source of funding for the Palestinians.
Israel has long objected to the Palestinian “martyrs fund,” which provides stipends to thousands of families that have had relatives killed, wounded or imprisoned in the conflict with Israel.
The Palestinians say the payments are a type of welfare system meant to assist families affected by the conflict. But Israel says such payments serve as rewards and incentives for violence.