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
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
"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
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
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
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
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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