Israel takes small step toward easing Gaza blockade
Israel took another small step Sunday toward easing its land blockade of the Gaza Strip, announcing it plans to permit all goods into the seaside territory except those on a list of items specifically banned. But the government has yet to specify what items will be banned or when the changes will take effect.
Under heavy international pressure, Israel said last week that it planned to ease restrictions on most food items, household wares and other “civilian goods.” Weapons will continue to be banned and the naval blockade around Gaza will stay in place.
The policy change is intended to permit more goods into Gaza. Currently only items on a narrow pre-approved list are permitted in.
But aid experts said questions remain about how the new policy will treat so-called dual-use items, such as cement and construction materials, which Israel says can be used for military purposes. Israel has pledged to permit more construction materials into Gaza as long as they are under international supervision, but it remains unclear how much will be allowed in.
The exact list of banned items will be published “as quickly as possible,” the government said in a statement.
Israel has defended the restrictions as needed to weaken and isolate the Palestinian armed group Hamas, which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and has controlled Gaza since 2007.
Israel is also hoping that by easing the land blockade it will discourage activist groups from dispatching more aid supply ships to attempt to break Israel’s naval blockade. Nine activists were killed May 31 when Israeli commandos raided one such protest ship.
“We need to make a simple fact clear to the world,” Israeli Welfare Minister Yitzhak Herzog told Army Radio on Sunday. “There is no need for flotillas that are only meant to provoke.”
Israel also promised Sunday to eventually expand the capacity of border crossings to permit more traffic and to “streamline” its restrictions on the movement of people in and out of Gaza, including those needing medical treatment and international aid workers.
On Saturday, Israel barred Germany’s Development Aid Minister Dirk Niebel from visiting Gaza to inspect a German-funded water-purification plant. German officials called the decision a “grave mistake,” according to the Israeli news site Ynet.
Israel has frequently prevent foreign diplomats from visiting Gaza, saying such trips lend credulity to Hamas.