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OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel will issue another 8,000 permits for Gazans to work in the Jewish state, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced Sunday, saying the move aimed to improve Palestinian livelihoods in the blockaded territory.

The new permits raise the total to 20,000 from 12,000 Israeli work and trade permits for residents of Gaza, a territory blockaded by Israel since the takeover by Islamist group Hamas in 2007.

“Our government is working very hard to improve the lives of the Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza,” Bennett said, standing next to visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

“Just earlier today my cabinet approved 20,000 workers from Gaza to be able to work in Israel,” he said.

A recent World Bank report put the unemployment rate in Gaza, a Palestinian territory of some 2.3 million people, at nearly 48 percent.

In his remarks, delivered ahead of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Bennett also pledged to improve the infrastructure in the Erez crossing, through which Gazans enter Israel.

“We are going to be investing almost 40 millions shekels ($12.4 million) in improving the crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip, to allow smooth and dignified movement between Gaza and Israel,” he said.

“While we can’t solve everything, we can improve the lives of people on the ground,” the Israeli premier said.

Hamas and Israel have fought repeatedly over the last 15 years, most recently in May. The coronavirus pandemic has also caused Israel to close its land crossings at times. Hostilities surged during Ramadan last year, and Israeli officials have voiced concern that Hamas may seek to inflame tensions this year during the holy month.

An Israeli security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said “Hamas doesn’t want war right now, but they want to show that they are still in a conflict with Israel”.

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