GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – Tens of thousands of Palestinians lined up outside Gaza Strip chambers of commerce on Wednesday, hoping to obtain work permits inside Israel after rumors circulated that more would be issued to residents of the territory ruled by the militant group Hamas.
Gaza’s more than 2 million Palestinian residents have been living under a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade since Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in the coastal region in 2007. Israel says closures are needed to contain the militant group , while critics consider it a form of collective punishment.
An Israeli security official said authorities decided to allow 7,000 workers in September, but were only able to issue 4,500 permits. They are now accepting applications for the remaining 2,500, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance with the regulations.
Sharif Al-Faqawi, one of the workers queuing for a permit, said he shared a single room with his wife and eight children.
“We hope the passages will be opened so that we can work and feed our children,” he said. “When I go north (to Israel), at least I can feed them and build a future for them.”
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since 2008, the most recent in May this year. Hamas has called for the easing of the blockade as part of an informal ceasefire brokered by Egypt. Israel has lifted some restrictions since the 11-day war ended in May while warning that any broader easing depends on maintaining calm.
Hamas recently held a workshop to discuss natural resource management in what is now Israel after the militant group “liberated” historic Palestine. Critics saw the event as proof of Hamas’s disconnect from the daily hardships Palestinians endure in Gaza, where employment hovers around 50 percent.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank also work in Israel, mainly in construction and agriculture. Salaries are much higher in Israel, in part due to Israel’s 54-year military occupation of the land.
Associated Press writer Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed to this report.