Israel announces steps to help Gaza merchants hit by blockade imposed after Hamas takeover

Israel has announced new steps to bring relief to Gaza Strip residents and promote the rehabilitation of areas devastated during last year’s war with Hamas, the Islamic militants that rule the territory.

The Israeli military said Tuesday it is increasing the number of permits issued to Gaza merchants which allow them to enter the West Bank and Israel for business. It said it would also allow an increase in the export of textiles and furniture.

Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007 from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel says the restrictions are meant to prevent Hamas from getting weapons, but they have taken a heavy toll on the local economy and hindered reconstruction efforts.

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