Published 11:32 17.06.10
Latest update 11:32 17.06.10
Israel to ease Gaza land blockade 
Security cabinet votes to 'liberalize' system by which goods enter Hamas-ruled 
territory, and expand flow of materials for civilian projects under 
international supervision.
By Barak Ravid and Reuters Tags: Israel news Gaza flotilla 
Israel's security cabinet voted Thursday to ease its land blockade of the Gaza 
Strip, following its deadly raid on a humanitarian aid flotilla bound for the 
Hamas-ruled territory.

"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," the government said in a statement after the 

The new Israeli-approved product list included all food items, toys, 
stationery, kitchen utensils, mattresses and towels, said Raed Fattouh, the 
Palestinian coordinator of supplies to the enclave.

The decision does not affect Israel's sea blockade of the coastal strip or its 
ban on the private import of building materials, vital to widescale 
reconstruction after the December 2008-January 2009 war in the Gaza Strip. 
Hamas called the Israeli measures "media propaganda".

Israel has said an unrestricted import of cement could lead to Hamas Islamists 
seizing the material and using it to rebuild military infrastructure. It 
already allows in limited quantities of construction material for United 
Nations projects.

The announcement did not specify how procedures for the import of commercial 
goods would change or list any specific products, saying only that cabinet 
ministers would decide in the coming days how to implement the new policy.

The government statement noted "existing security procedures to prevent the 
inflow of weapons and war materiel" would continue, signaling the sea blockade 
that Israel says is essential to prevent weapons smuggling to Hamas would not 
be lifted.

The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Thursday 
that the bloc is ready to support Israel's stated intention to ease the embargo 
on the Gaza Strip with a mission on the ground.

"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 said 
in Brussels, on the margins of an EU leaders' meeting.

She said she would meet with EU experts in Brussels on Friday "to see what we 
can offer."

European diplomats had said a plan drawn up in coordination with Middle East 
envoy Tony Blair called for Israel to move from a policy of banning the entry 
of many commercial goods, except a few designated items, to accepting all 
products and prohibiting only those proscribed on a list.

Blair represents the Quartet of international powers -- the United States, 
European Union, United Nations and Russia - seeking Middle East peace. He held 
talks last week with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Commenting on the Israeli announcement, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said 
some of the goods that will now be allowed in were "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 contruction material, which must 
be allowed to come in without restrictions," he said.

Israel faced mounting international calls to ease or lift its Gaza embargo 
following the killing by Israeli commandos of nine pro-Palestinian Turkish 
activists during the interception at sea of an aid convoy on May 31.

Israeli leaders said the troops acted in self-defense after being swarmed by 
activists who attacked them, and that the blockade is necessary to prevent arms 
smuggling to Hamas.

The security cabinet's deliberations began on Wednesday and coincided with 
another visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories by U.S. Middle East 
envoy George Mitchell.

Mitchell is mediating indirect talks between Israel and Western-backed 
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel imposed the blockade soon after Hamas, which has rejected Western calls 
to recognize its right to exist, won a Palestinian legislative election in 
2006. Restrictions were tightened after Hamas seized power in Gaza the 
following year.

A network of smuggling tunnels under the Gaza Strip's border with Egypt keeps 
the enclave supplied with a variety of black market commercial goods. Hamas 
maintains its own tunnels, which Israel says are also used for weapons 

Humanitarian aid shipments are transferred regularly via border crossings with 
Israel, but international aid groups say more supplies are needed.

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