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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.

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Children's toys no longer banned

Raed Fatouh, a Palestinian liaison who coordinates the entry of goods into Gaza, says that Israel allowed 4,000 different items into Gaza before the blockade, and now that number is 150. He says that the Palestinians were informed by Israel that next week more goods would be allowed in. "Israel plans to allow stationary, kitchen tools, towels, beds, mattresses, kids toys, and the entire range of food products," he says.

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Shortly after pulling out of Gaza in 2005, Israel began severely restricting exports and import of goods at its land crossings into the territory. The takeover of Gaza by Hamas prompted Israel to shut the crossings almost completely except for basic foods and medicines – an attempt to isolate Hamas and undermine support by laying waste to the economy.

According to the UN, Gaza suffers from 44 percent unemployment. Despite that, the economic pressure is considered a failure even in Israel. The uproar over the May 31 flotilla raid emboldened critics of the blockade among Israel's main allies in the US and Europe.

Palestinian Authority says easing insufficient

A spokesman for the US-backed Palestinian Authority, led by staunch Hamas rival Mahmoud Abbas, called the decision to ease the blockade "insufficient.'' Secular Arab governments, such as the PA, have been accused of quietly supporting the Israeli siege to pressure Hamas. Egypt, which closed its civilian crossing with Gaza, has been accused of collaborating on the closure as well.

"We wish for a total lifting of the siege,'' says Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. "Are we talking about thousands of items? Most of Gazas supplies come from Israel and Israel should provide for them. This isn't against Hamas, its harming the civilian population of Gaza.''

That sentiment was echoed by Gisha, an Israeli non-profit that has pushed for free movement of goods and people across the border. "We don't need cosmetic changes,'' said a statement from the group. "We need a policy that recognizes the rights of Palestinian residents of Gaza not just to consume but also to produce and to travel.''

Safwat Kalhout contributed from in Gaza City

IN PICTURES: The Gaza flotilla and the aftermath of the Israeli naval raid