Israel drops long list of goods banned from Gaza

 

ISRAEL HAS 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.

The decision, taken yesterday by the security cabinet, followed last week’s declaration that Israel was easing the economic blockade that has been in place since Hamas seized power in the strip three years ago.

Israel had been under intense international pressure to ease its restrictions ever since naval commandos intercepted a Gaza -bound aid flotilla in international waters on May 31st. Nine Turkish activists were killed and dozens wounded by commandos when clashes broke out on the largest ship, the Mavi Marmara.

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.

A statement by the prime minister’s office stressed Israel still considered Hamas a terrorist organisation. “The international community must stand firm and fulfil its conditions in relation to Hamas. Hamas took over the Gaza Strip and turned it into a hostile territory that is used to plan and execute attacks against Israel and its citizens. The Israel defence forces will continue to prevent terrorists, weapons, ammunition and other materials that strengthen Hamas and other terror organisations from entering or leaving Gaza,” the statement said.

The maritime blockade remains in force with Israel insisting that all ships carrying goods to Gaza be examined for weapons at the southern Israeli port of Ashdod.

Following the cabinet decision prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu met Tony Blair, envoy of the quartet – the US, the EU, Russia and the UN – who held intensive contacts with Israeli officials over recent weeks over the easing of the siege. Mr Blair gave a cautious welcome to the Israeli move.

“Plainly there are still issues to be addressed and the test of course will be not what is said, but what is done. The quartet looks forward to working closely with the government of Israel and other partners on its implementation.”

“Once again,” he said, “I repeat my demand that [captured Israeli soldier] Gilad Shalit, now approaching four years in captivity, should be released immediately. We will redouble our efforts to secure his freedom. Over these coming months we therefore need to improve life in Gaza; continue the growth in the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority development of its institutions for statehood; and ensure that the indirect talks, led by senator Mitchell, turn into full direct negotiations.

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.