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Israel To Partly Ease Gaza Blockade

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Israel's inner cabinet has approved a plan to ease partially the land blockade of the Gaza Strip, following an international outcry over the deadly Israeli raid on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza.

A statement from the office of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the plan will "liberalize" the system by which civilian goods enter Gaza and will expand the inflow of materials for civilian projects that are under international supervision.

It did not give a products list, nor did it say what extra quantity of goods are involved in the liberalization.

But Reuters quotes a Palestinian coordinator, Raed Fattouh, of supplies to the enclave as saying a new Israeli-approved product list eases the supply of food items, toys, stationery, kitchen utensils, mattresses and towels.

The European Union's high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, said on June 17 that a new approach to the products list is needed.

"[There] should be a change from a list of goods that are allowed into Gaza, a reversal of that, to a list of those goods that are not allowed, so we open up many more products so that ordinary people can get on with their lives," Ashton said. "And we've also asked that they [the Israelis] look at opening the [road] crossings [to Gaza]."

The statement said Israel will continue the existing security procedures to prevent the inflow of weapons and war materiel into the Hamas-ruled territory, and it said it will maintain its sea blockade on Gaza.

Beleaguered Gaza

Reporters say the wording of the statement indicates that extra building materials will be allowed into the besieged territory -- at least for projects run by the United Nations.

The lack of materials to rebuild the damage caused by the war with Israel remains one of the most serious aspects of the three-year-long blockade.

Water, sanitation, and electrical systems in Gaza are all in urgent need of repair, as are thousands of private homes as well as public buildings. The new Israeli measure apparently will not bring any improvement in these areas.

The Israelis have banned the import of most building materials for fear that Hamas militants would use them to construct bunkers and other military infrastructure.

'Very Quickly'

There is no word on when the Israeli plan will be implemented, but Ashton expressed hope it will be soon.

"We hope that the, in principle, statement by the Israeli government can now be followed up very quickly with the detail, which we shall look at with interest and hope that we can push forward, offer our support, and ensure the people of Gaza actually can now move toward getting a normal life," Ashton said.

In a first reaction from Hamas, lawmaker Salah Bardawil described the Israeli decision as merely "window dressing." In the West Bank, Saeb Erekat, negotiator for the Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas said the siege of Gaza is collective punishment and it must be lifted entirely.

The Israeli plan is reportedly based on understandings reached by Netanyahu and Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair. The Quartet consists of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia.

written by Breffni O'Rourke based on agency and other media reports