Israel says commercial goods traffic to Gaza to resume if calm holds

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel said it would allow commercial goods back into the Gaza Strip on Wednesday if the border remained quiet, lifting a ban imposed last month in response to incendiary balloons launched by Palestinians across the frontier.

FILE PHOTO - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, July 29, 2018. Sebastian Scheiner /Pool via Reuters *** Local Caption ***

The decision, announced on Tuesday, coincided with Egyptian efforts to achieve a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian enclave’s dominant armed faction.

“If the calm that has prevailed since the beginning of the week will be maintained until tomorrow morning, the Kerem Shalom crossing will open tomorrow at 9 a.m. (0600 GMT) and the fishing limit will be increased to nine miles from the shore,” the Israeli Defence Ministry said.

Palestinian officials who coordinate with Israel on supplies to the Gaza Strip said all commercial goods that had been allowed through Kerem Shalom prior to the July 9 ban could again be brought into the territory of two million people.

Izzat Risheq, a Hamas official, said Palestinian factions were due to meet in Cairo on Tuesday to discuss terms for a truce.

Last week, Palestinian militants fired scores of rockets into southern Israel and Israeli aircraft struck more than 150 targets in Gaza before Egypt mediated a de facto ceasefire.

The fighting has since died down and there have been fewer reports of balloons and kites with flammable material floating across from Gaza into southern Israel, where large tracts of farmland and forests have been burned in recent months.

Egypt and the United Nations have been trying to mediate a comprehensive truce to prevent another escalation in fighting and to ease the deep economic hardship in Gaza.

Israel’s finance minister confirmed on Tuesday an Israeli Channel Ten television report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt in May over the Gaza situation.

During their May 22 meeting, Netanyahu and Sisi discussed the easing of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, rehabilitation of its infrastructure and terms for a ceasefire, the Channel Ten report said.

In the violence last week, a pregnant Palestinian woman and her 18-month-old child were killed in Israeli attacks, as was a Hamas militant, Gaza medical officials said. The Israeli military said seven people were wounded by Palestinian fire on southern Israel.

For more than a decade Gaza has been controlled by Hamas and subject to an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has wrecked its economy, creating what the World Bank has described as a humanitarian crisis with shortages of water, electricity and medicine.

Israel says it has no choice but to enforce its blockade to defend itself against Hamas, which calls for Israel’s destruction and has used Gaza as a base for missile attacks.

Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writng by Maayan Lubell and Ori Lewis; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Gareth Jones