THE IRISH TIMES
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
MATTHEW KALMAN in Ramallah
IN RESPONSE to growing international pressure, Israel announced on Sunday it was easing the blockade on the Gaza Strip after four years in which only a trickle of basic foodstuffs, fuel, medicine and other items were allowed into the Hamas-controlled enclave.
The Israeli defence ministry published an 11-page booklet which for the first time set out a list of “controlled items” that would continue to be banned.
These include “weapons and war material, including problematic dual-use items” including carbon fabric tape, chopped glass fibres, gas tanks, drilling equipment and epoxy resins.
In an attempt to prevent Hamas from building bunkers and other military facilities, Israel will allow cement and other construction material for “internationally-funded and supervised projects approved by the Palestinian Authority”. Under the Oslo Peace Accords, Israel controls all goods access to the Gaza Strip, including land, sea and air passages. Egypt, which controls a land crossing into Gaza at Rafah, enforces a strict ban on goods from its territory.
For years, Palestinians have circumvented Israeli and Egyptian inspection through some 200 tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border used to smuggle in commodities from weapons and explosives to luxury cars and live animals.
The blockade was implemented following the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June 2006. His parents, who have attracted tens of thousands of supporters during a 10-day march to Jerusalem, said Mr Netanyahu had “surrendered” without securing their son’s release. Last night, the Shalit family and an audience of thousands attended a concert in Shalit’s honour by the Israel Philharmonic on the Gaza border.
“We have made great effort to ease the plight of civilian population and make things difficult for terror groups,” Yossi Gal, director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, told reporters in Jerusalem.
Israel said it would sharply increase the number of trucks carrying goods into Gaza.
Tony Blair, peace envoy for the Middle East “Quartet” of the UN, EU, US and Russia, hailed the Israeli move as “a significant milestone.” “The list of controlled items is tightly defined to protect Israel’s legitimate security needs,” said Mr Blair. “The number of projects to improve health, education, water and sanitation facilities that have received approval in the last few days has increased, and should continue to grow. These changes . . . should have a dramatic influence on the daily lives of the people of Gaza.”
As the list was published, Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak met in Jerusalem with Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, the first public top-level contacts between the two sides since the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister in February 2009.