GAZA CITY/ RAMALLAH: Israel announced Thursday it is easing
its blockade of the Gaza Strip, but its allies and Arab neighbors said it did
not go far enough and demanded a complete lifting of the embargo.
In a statement issued by the Israeli prime minister's
office, the government said it had agreed to expand the range of goods that
could enter Gaza. The statement emphasized that the materials are for civilian
projects and the transfer will be under international supervision.
The new Israeli-approved product list includes all food
items, toys, stationary, kitchen utensils, mattresses and towels, according to
the Palestinian coordinator of supplies in the Gaza Strip, Raed Fattouh.
But Israel will maintain its sea blockade, a ban on exports
from the coastal strip and a prohibition against the commercial import of
building materials that are vital to wide-scale reconstruction after the
December 2008-January 2009 Gaza war.
The Israeli government statement added: "The Cabinet
will meet in the near future to decide on steps to implement this policy.
Israel expects the international community to work for the immediate release of
In Gaza, Hamas, which controls the territory, dismissed the
Israeli decision as "media propaganda". Sami Abu Zuhri, spokesman for
the group, said in a statement that "the Israeli decision to increase
varieties and quantities of goods to Gaza is aimed at decorating the blockade
and ensuring its continuation ... in addition to misleading the international
public opinion by giving the impression of easing the blockade."
"What is required is not to allow entry of additional
quantities of good but to lift all forms of the embargo by opening the border
crossings around Gaza and to ensure the freedom of movement for individuals and
the needed goods, especially construction materials," Abu Zuhri added.
In Ramallah, chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat dubbed
the Israeli decision as a public relations trick. Erekat said after a meeting
with the European Union's envoy to the Middle East, Mark Otte, that the Israeli
blockade "constitutes a flagrant violation of international law." He
added that the blockade, targeting the lives of 1.5 million people in the Gaza
Strip, is the worst form of collective punishment.
Jordan said the Israeli plan was not enough and urged a
complete lifting of all restrictions. Jordan "wants Israel to completely
lift this unjust blockade," the kingdom's information minister and
government spokesman, Nabil Sharif, said at a news conference in Amman.
"Any decision to ease the pressure on Gaza is a step in the right
direction, but the Israeli plan is not enough. Cosmetic measures do not solve
problems," he added.
A Turkish Foreign Ministry official said Ankara wanted to
evaluate the Israeli move. "However, our attitude on the issue is obvious:
we expect that the blockade be lifted altogether."
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the European
Union hoped "the in-principle statement by the Israeli government can now
be followed up very quickly with the detail which we shall look at with
Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said in Rome Israel
"has understood that a blockade strategy is counterproductive",
echoing Israeli and foreign critics of the embargo who have said such pressure
only rallies Gaza residents around Hamas.
European diplomats had said a plan drawn up in coordination
with Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair called for Israel to move from
banning the entry of many commercial goods to accepting all products and
prohibiting only a list of specified items. Blair held talks last week with
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
imposed the blockade soon after Hamas won a Palestinian election in 2006.
Restrictions were tightened after Hamas' takeover of Gaza.