Israel Moves to Relax Gaza Land Blockade

Published: June 17th 2010
in News » Israel

Gaza border crossing
Pic: wikimedia commons

Israel’s security cabinet on Thursday approved a decision to relax its Gaza land blockade. The vote comes on the heels of Israel’s deadly raid on the Gaza aid flotilla.


The government explained the change, stating, "It was agreed to liberalize the system by which civilian goods enter Gaza (and) expand the inflow of materials for civilian projects that are under international supervision."


Raed Fattouh, the Palestinian coordinator of supplies to Gaza, told Haaretz that the new approved materials and goods will include all foods, kitchen utensils, stationary, toys, mattresses and towels.


The move will not change Israel’s sea blockade of the Gaza Strip, which is says is vital to keep weapons out of the hands of Hamas, or its prohibition on importing construction materials. Construction supplies are considered essential for rebuilding efforts needed after the 2009 Gaza war. Israel has stated that opening cement imports could easily be used by Hamas for building military infrastructure. Small amounts of construction supplies are currently allowed into Gaza for United Nations building projects.


The security cabinet did not list the names of any specific products. It also did not explain if the method for importing civilian goods would change. Cabinet ministers are expected to reach a decision on how to implement the changes in the next few days.


The government stated that “existing security procedures to prevent the inflow of weapons and war material” will remain in place.


The foreign policy head of the European Union, Catherine Ashton, stated on Thursday that the European government will support Israel’s proposed easing of the land blockade. Speaking from Brussels, she said, "I look with great interest at what the Israeli cabinet is saying. This is an in-principle statement. Obviously, the detail is what matters.”


Ashton added that she will be meeting with EU officials in Brussels on Friday to decide on the specifics of the EU’s support.


EU officials had previously said that a plan was created with Middle East envoy Tony Blair. The idea was for Israel to replace an umbrella ban on most commercial goods with a program of allowing in all products, except those on a prohibited list. Blair is the representative of the Quartet of international nations, the US, the EU, the UN and Russia, which seek to broker an end to the conflict.


The move by Israel to ease the land blockade was called “media propaganda” by Hamas. The Islamist group’s spokesperson, Sami Abu Zuhri, told Haaretz that a portion of the items that will not be allowed to enter Gaza are “trivial and secondary.”


“What is needed is a complete lifting of the blockade. Goods and people must be free to enter and leave. Gaza especially needs construction material, which must be allowed to come in without restrictions,” he added.


Israel has been under increasing pressure to ease the blockade since the deaths of nine Turkish activists when Israeli commandos intercepted the Turkish aid flotilla headed for Gaza on May 31.


The Israeli government has stood behind the soldiers, saying they acted in self-defence after coming under attack by activists while boarding one of the ships.


Related articles: (gaza blockade, flotilla, abbas, george mitchell, tony blair, gaza strip, hamas)

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