Easing of Gaza blockade criticised


Israel’s decision to ease its 3-year blockade of Gaza has drawn criticism from pro-Palestinian groups who say it does not go far enough.

The Israeli security cabinet yesterday abandoned its long list of goods banned from entering Gaza and will now allow everything in except weapons, materials used to manufacture weapons, and unspecified “problematic materials” which have both civilian and military uses.

Under the new policy Israel will allow construction material to be imported into Gaza for projects approved by the Palestinian Authority or under international supervision, including items for schools, health facilities, water, sanitation and other infrastructure projects.

However, Dr Fintan Lane of the Free Gaza Movement in Ireland today said both the airport and port in Gaza are still unable to operate, with 80 per cent of Gazans living below the poverty line.

Only a complete end to the blockade will help the people of Gaza and allow them to reconstruct their local economy, he said, adding: “Trade, exports and commercial activity have been stopped or heavily restricted by Israel, leading to an unemployment rate of over 45 per cent”.

Dr Lane, who was one of the Irish citizens detained in Ashdod after the Gaza-bound aid flotilla he was sailing in was raided by armed and masked Israeli commandos, said the people of Gaza need free access.

Freda Hughes, chair of the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), criticised Israel for not allowing Gaza to export goods or have independent communication with the international community.

"Items getting in is of course a good thing but it's a drop in the ocean. The focus needs to be on giving Gaza autonomous communication".

Ms Hughes said she viewed the easing of the blockade as a PR stunt on the part of Israel. "It must be stressed the blockade is only being eased and not lifted," she said.

She also said the boats seized by Israel during a raid of the 'Freedom Flotilla' had yet to be returned.

"We are working hard on getting the Rachel Corrie back to Ireland, but we still haven't got back a boat seized by Israel last year. It is sitting in the port of Ashdod with the Rachel Corrie".

John Ging, head of UN relief and Works Agency in Gaza, said: “What’s missing from the statement yesterday is any reference to commercial activity. This is not about just keeping people alive… it’s about giving them a life”.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said many items are reaching Gaza via an unregulated tunnel from Egypt, adding: “anything that people of sinister objective need to get, they can get”.

Middle East envoy Tony Blair said humanitarian aid groups no longer had a reason to try to reach the Hamas-ruled territory by sea.

"Look, we have a sensible policy now," Mr Blair said today in an interview with Israeli Army Radio. "There is no need to bring things directly into the seaport in Gaza."

The White House issued a statement welcoming the Israeli move and expressing the belief that the measure would significantly improve the lives of Gaza Strip residents. It also noted US president Barack Obama and Mr Netanyahu will discuss Israeli policy and other steps that must be taken during their US meeting on July 6th.