Israeli cabinet fails to reach deal over Gaza blockade


THE ISRAELI security cabinet will reconvene today after ministers yesterday failed to reach agreement on easing the economic blockade on Gaza.

Israel has been under increasing international pressure to allow more goods into Gaza since the May 31st naval raid on an international aid flotilla in which nine Turkish passengers were killed in clashes with Israeli commandos.

Israel claims its blockade, introduced after Hamas seized control of the coastal strip in 2007, is necessary to ensure that weapons do not reach the area.

Earlier this week, Middle East quartet envoy Tony Blair said he expected Israel to ease the restrictions “within days”. Social affairs minister Yithak Herzog told army radio: “We must understand that the blockade implemented until this time is outdated and no longer applicable in the current international and diplomatic climate.”

Israel is expected to agree to significantly shorten the list of prohibited goods it refuses to allow into Gaza and to allow construction materials earmarked for United Nations projects.

Israeli officials expressed the hope a decision by the government to permit more goods into Gaza through land crossings would encourage foreign governments to dissuade their citizens from taking part in future attempts to break the blockade.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said yesterday that Israel’s siege was counter-productive and needed to be lifted. “The suffering of Gaza doesn’t make Israel more secure,” she said. “This cannot go on, things must change.” In a speech to the European parliament in Strasbourg, Baroness Ashton called for the re-opening of the border crossings and the formulation of a “short agreed list of prohibited goods where Israel has legitimate security concerns”.

Meanwhile, the Israeli navy is bracing to intercept more flotillas in the coming weeks. There are conflicting reports about ships organised by the Iranian Red Crescent Society and boats departing from Lebanese ports already on their way to Gaza.

The Turkish group which organised last month’s flotilla announced yesterday there were plans for at least six more ships to sail for Gaza next month. Representatives from IHH (the foundation for human rights and freedoms and humanitarian aid), said the boats would sail in the second half of July, and journalists would be invited to inspect the contents to “demonstrate their commitment to total transparency”.

Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak, who heads the Labor party, has called for a daring political initiative from the government in the coming months to end Israel’s growing international isolation. The Ha’aretznewspaper reported Mr Barak told senior ministers the “international preoccupation” with Israel following the naval interception means Israel must improve its ties with the US.

“There is no way to rehabilitate ties with the administration without presenting an assertive political programme that will address the core issues of a final settlement with the Palestinians,” Mr Barak said.