Israel Further Restricts Israeli-Arabs From Visiting Their Families in Gaza

lt;pgt;The body overseeing the Israeli government#039;s policy in the Gaza Strip implemented new rules on Friday, further restricting most Israeli-Arabs from visiting their families in the coastal enclave.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;Israeli-Arabs had previously received entry permits to Gaza in order to visit their parents, siblings and children, with prior permission from the Israeli military#039;s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT).lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;However, the new regulations, proposed by COGAT#039;s director Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, will ensure that entry permits are only issued to Israeli Arabs on humanitarian grounds, following a security check of the permit applicant.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;A COGAT spokesperson confirmed that the new rules had been approved by Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman, the head of the Israeli military#039;s southern command—a regional military division which focuses on the protection of Southern Israel—and that the regulations will take effect immediately. quot;From today, the rules are going to be changed,quot; the spokesperson said.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;The restrictions come after the revelation that two Israeli nationals, one a Bedouin and the other an Ethiopian-Israeli Jew, are currently being held in Gaza, allegedly by Hamas, after crossing into the territory. The reasons behind their crossing into Gaza remain unknown.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;Israel holds Hamas, the Islamist group who control the Gaza Strip, responsible for the detention of both citizens, though they deny having any Israeli captives in Gaza. Under Israeli law, Jews are restricted from entering Gaza because of the high security threat level.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;In a statement released on Thursday, COGAT said the new rules have been imposed quot;given the security situation in the Gaza Stripquot; and to prevent Hamas from exploiting Palestinians living in Israel with family ties in the blockaded territory.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;quot;Hamas is liable to exploit Israeli Arabs#039; ties to Gaza,quot; the statement read. quot;It is even holding two innocent Israeli civilians against their will, one of them a Bedouin. Thus at the present moment, the entry of Israeli Arabs into the Strip has security implications.quot;lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;In the first six months of this year, 762 Israelis received entry permits to Gaza, with the majority travelling to join a spouse or to visit a relative, according to Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, which had lt;a href=quot;http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.667576quot; rel=quot;nofollowquot;gt;reportedlt;/agt; on the proposals before their implementation.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;On Friday, Amnesty International criticised the move to tighten access on Israeli-Arabs entering the Gaza Strip. quot;These restrictions should not be tightened,quot; says Deborah Hyams, Amnesty International#039;s researcher on Israel and Palestine. quot;Palestinian citizens of Israel seeking to enter the Gaza Strip already face restrictions which are one facet of Israel#039;s continuing military blockade, and this is generally the only way for relatives to see one another.quot;lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;quot;On the contrary, Palestinian citizens of Israel seeking to enter Gaza, and Palestinians from Gaza seeking to enter Israel, should be allowed access, subject only to necessary and proportionate individual security checks, and without arbitrary restrictions,quot; she adds. quot;The Israeli authorities must completely lift all aspects of the blockade on the Gaza Strip, which has now entered its ninth devastating year.quot;lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;One of the two Israeli nationals being held in the territory, an Ethiopian Jew, identified by Israeli authorities as Avraham Mangisto, crossed the Gaza border fence illegally on September 7 last year, just weeks after the conclusion of the conflict between Palestinian militant groups and the Israeli military.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;The name of the other captive Israeli national is currently being withheld by Israeli authorities. Mangisto, 28, is being held by Hamas quot;against his willquot;, according to quot;credible intelligence,quot; COGAT believes. Hamas has denied that it is holding any Israeli nationals in the territory.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;Despite denying any knowledge of the two Israeli citizens#039; whereabouts, Hamas has claimed that Israel has approached them to negotiate the captives#039; release. Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to return the two citizens to Israel.lt;/pgt; lt;pgt;quot;We hold Hamas responsible for their welfare,quot; Netanyahu said. quot;I spoke with the parents and siblings of Avraham Mangisto and I told them that from as soon as the incident became known we have spared no effort to return him to Israel.quot;lt;/pgt;