Palestinians walk through the Erez border crossing with Israel in the northern Gaza Strip as they cross into Gaza, on June 09, 2010. (Mahmud Hams, AFP)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The number of Gaza residents who were allowed to enter Israel dropped by 40 percent last month compared to the 2016 monthly average, according figures from legal nonprofit organization Gisha cited in a report
published Saturday by Israeli daily Haaretz.
Furthermore, the number of Palestinian businesspeople who entered Israel from the besieged coastal enclave fell by 60 percent compared to February 2016.
The report said that in February 2017, only 7,301 people passed through Israel's Erez crossing -- the only land crossing for Palestinian civilians to access Israeli from Gaza, which is heavily restricted by Israeli authorities as part of a crippling blockade on the coastal enclave in place since 2007.
According to Haaretz, the figure represented the lowest number of people allowed to pass through the checkpoint since the end of Israel's devastating assault on the Palestinian territory in 2014.
The figure was just over half of the number of permits issued in February 2015, while the monthly average for 2016 was 12,150 people.
The report said that the greatest drop in permits was among Palestinian traders, including those with many years' experience in the business. Gisha recorded only 3,287 exits for traders in February, a drop of over 50 percent compared to the monthly average in 2016 (6,637) and a 60 percent reduction compared to February 2016, when the figure was 8,226.
Only 1,363 traders currently have valid entry permits, which is just over a third of the some 3,600 permits Israel had approved in late 2015, and about a quarter of the quota set by Israel, which Haaretz said was never filled.
Israeli forces had detained some 20 businesspeople from Gaza during 2016 for various reasons, a source at the Palestinian liaison office told Ma’an in November.
Palestinians detained at Erez are often interrogated for several hours, sometimes for days, before they are either allowed into Israel or sent back to Gaza.
Gisha based its figures on information from the Palestinian civil commission, the official body that works with Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the body responsible for imposing Israeli policies in the occupied territory, such as the issue of Israeli entry permits for Gaza residents.
The decade-long Israeli blockade has plunged the Gaza Strip’s nearly two million Palestinians into extreme poverty and some of the highest unemployment rates in the world, which reached 42 percent last year.
Gaza's infrastructure has yet to recover from the devastation of three Israeli offensives over the past six years. The slow and sometimes stagnant reconstruction of the besieged coastal enclave has only been worsened by the blockade, leading the UN to warn that Gaza could be “uninhabitable” by 2020.