By ARON HELLER
JERUSALEM — Israel’s Defense Ministry has recommended a partial lifting of the embargo on the Gaza Strip as a goodwill gesture toward the Palestinians to spur talks to free a long-held captive soldier, an Israeli news site reported Friday.
Israel has been linking the opening of Gaza’s borders to the release of Sgt. Gilad Schalit, an Israeli soldier held by Hamas militants for three years. Hamas has been pushing for a deal to trade him for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
Israel imposed a near-total embargo of the Gaza Strip in 2007 after Hamas militants violently took control of the territory.
According to the new plan reported by the Israeli news Web site YNet, Israel would increase supplies of coffee, tea, soups, meat, fish and canned goods into Gaza ahead of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which begins in August, to promote a deal for Schalit.
Israel would also renew shipments of fuel, clothing, kitchenware and egg-laying chickens as part of the package.
YNet reported that the proposal had been drafted by defense officials and awaits the approval of Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The Defense Ministry would not officially comment on the report.
The idea behind the plan, according to YNet, was to lift the embargo gradually and link it to progress on Egyptian-mediated talks aimed at releasing Schalit from captivity. The plan does not include transferring products such as steel and concrete, which are needed to rebuild the battered territory but could also help Hamas improve its military capabilities.
Hamas and other militants have fired thousands of missiles at Israeli border towns and communities in recent years.
Israel has come under heavy pressure from the international community — including the Obama administration — to lift its embargo, which has crippled the Gaza economy. Gaza has survived largely thanks to a booming underground smuggling trade between Gaza and Egypt.
In other news, 43 percent of Israelis think the Benjamin Netanyahu government is doing a better job than its predecessor, as opposed to 30 percent who said it is faring worse than the previous Ehud Olmert-led government, according to a poll published Friday in the Haaretz daily.
The Dialog poll also found than Netanyahu himself enjoys a 49 percent approval rating from the public, with 52 percent saying he is best suited to lead the country, as opposed to 34 percent saying opposition leader Tzipi Livni was a better fit.
The poll, which coincides with Netanyahu marking his first 100 days in office, surveyed 500 people and had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.