Israel eases Gaza blockade, allowing building supplies and ketchup
Israel says it will allow construction materials into Gaza for civilian projects only. In response to international pressure, Israel will ease the Gaza blockade on food, toys, and kitchen utensils.
Tel Aviv, Israel
Israel's security cabinet today approved changes to the Gaza blockade that will potentially allow a range of food and building materials in for the first time in three years. But Israel will continue strict security checks at crossings into the Gaza Strip to prevent weapons from reaching militants.Skip to next paragraph
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The shift could mark a victory for the pro-Palestinian Gaza aid flotilla that challenged Israel's naval blockade on May 31, sparking violence that left nine Turks dead and a diplomatic uproar for Israel.
An easing of the Gaza siege might spur business activity in the blighted territory of 1.5 million Palestinians, say analysts, giving Hamas an economic and political lifeline after Israel's blockade failed to turn ordinary Gazans against their Islamist government.
But Hamas dismissed the Israeli move as a public relations gambit. The cabinet decision "is nonsense and useless,'' says Ahmed Yousef, the deputy foreign minister in the Hamas government in Gaza. "[Israel] wants to deceive the world and say that it is easing the siege. We are not in need of ketchup or mayonnaise. We need construction and industry raw materials to be let in."
An Israeli statement on the decision was short on details on exactly what will be allowed in. The statement said that the ministers agreed to "liberalize'' rules for entry of goods into Gaza and "expand'' imports of materials for civilian projects under international supervision. The cabinet will meet again "in the coming days" to discuss steps for implementing the changes.
"It’s a clear direction of policy. We have no problem with civilian goods for civilian purposes,'' says an Israeli official who requests anonymity.
The official adds that building materials, such as concrete, would be allowed into Gaza provided they are handled by international groups that have given Israel "assurances" they won't be used for military purposes.
For the last three years, Israel has prevented a range of items – including cilantro, fresh meat, margarine and children's toys – from entering the Gaza Strip. The limited food and medicine items cleared for passage were aimed at bolstering Israeli arguments that Gazans were not threatened with a humanitarian crisis.
Building infrastructure items like concrete were banned for fear it would help Hamas build bunkers. United Nations officials have accused Israel of hampering the rebuilding of the Gaza after last year's war with Hamas.
This past week, Israel announced it would allow more food products – such as soda, cookies, and potato chips – into Gaza. Today's decision would reduce the restrictions further. Earlier, Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing to allow some Palestinians to leave Gaza, and allow more goods to be brought in.