Israeli occupation authorities have tightened the more than decade-long Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip and cancelled hundreds of travel permits given for merchants, Israeli rights group Gisha revealed on Sunday.
Israeli NGO Gisha, the Legal Centre for Freedom of Movement, reported information that indicated a "sharp decline in the number of valid merchant permits held by Palestinian residents of Gaza."
The information noted that "the number of valid permits on April 1 was only 771, as opposed to the 1,173 permits which were valid in the previous month; a 34 per cent drop."
The Israeli rights group also noted that "the number of permits held by senior businesspeople, a smaller category, has also been reduced and was recorded as 168 on April 1, compared to 190 valid permits in early March; a 12 per cent decrease."
In comparison to late 2015, Gisha said: "There was a massive, overall decline of 74 percent in the number of valid permits for both categories of trader permits: there are currently 939 valid permits, compared to roughly 3,600 valid permits at the end of 2015."
Gisha said that the Coordinator of the Israeli Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), in theory, allocates a quota of up to 5,000 merchant permits, noting that this quota "has never been reached".
Regarding the consequences of the sharp decline of travel permits, Gisha said:
This reflects a wider trend of reduction in the number of exit permits granted by Israel to residents of Gaza… and indicates a further tightening of the [Israeli] decade-long closure [imposed on Gaza].
The Israeli organisation also referred to a report which had been issued by the Israeli Hebrew news website Wallah, noting that "the Israeli Security Agency [Shin Bet], in cooperation with the units of the Israeli ministry of defence responsible for Erez Crossing, is obstructing access even to the most acute of humanitarian cases."
According to the Wallah's report, Gisha added:
The conduct of these agencies has impeded any chance of economic development in Gaza and resulted in an extensive deterioration in the living conditions of residents of the Strip.
"Israel's extensive control over so many aspects of civilian life in Gaza imposes an obligation to do far more than the bare humanitarian minimum it seems to be aiming for; by virtue of its control, Israel must take responsibility for allowing normal civilian life in the Strip."