The Israel Security Agency (ISA or Shin Bet) has rescinded the permanent exit permits from the Gaza Strip for 12 out of 14 senior officials of the Palestinian Authority's Civil Affairs Administration.
As reported by Haaretz, "the administration acts as a mediator between Palestinian civilians and the Israeli authorities in matters involving exit permits from the Strip and the entry of construction materials." The affected officials "have worked for the Civil Affairs office for 10 years or more."
A spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority's General Authority of Civil Affairs said that Israel has targeted "top level employees who are assigned to coordinate the access of goods and construction material into Gaza and transport sick citizens for medical treatment out of the coastal enclave."
"This is a political and unjustified measure that aims at tightening the siege on the Gaza Strip", Mohammed Makadma added, speaking to Xinhua news agency Tuesday.
According to Haaretz, Makadma sees the development in the context of Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman's policy of "disconnecting Israeli communication with Palestinian institutions" under Mahmoud Abbas, and "creating direct communication with Palestinian residents."
Haaretz notes that "the cancelation of the exit permits is part of a wave of cancellations and bans on leaving the Gaza Strip", which has "impeded exit for people whom Israel had in the past allowed to leave Gaza, particularly businesspeople and those in need of medical treatment."
Gisha, an Israeli NGO which monitors the blockade closely, told the paper that "while Israel has indeed somewhat loosened restrictions on exiting Gaza since after the war in 2014", overall, "the number of approved exit permits is clearly in decline."
In 2013, based on official Israeli figures, 82% of exit permit applications were approved. In 2016 to date, the approval rate is down to 46%; less than 50,000 permits granted out of a population of some 2 million residents.
Gisha also pointed out that decisions have been reversed on appeal, "rais[ing] questions about the decision-making process and the arbitrariness with which a security ban is placed on a person" – including "a 16-year-old girl accepted to a prestigious study program in Holland, or an 85-year-old man who wants to visit his son dying of cancer in the West Bank."