By Barak Ravid
Senior cabinet ministers on Sunday approved steps toward easing Israel’s land blockade of the Gaza Strip, days after Jerusalem had issued a non-binding declaration supporting such a move.
In a statement released following the cabinet vote on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office emphasized that the change would not counter Israel’s policy “to defend it citizens against terror, rocket fire or any other hostile activities from Gaza.”
The PMO said that Israel would soon release a detailed list of goods that would not be allowed into the Gaza Strip, which would include all weapons.
“Any item that does not appear on this list will be allowed entry into Gaza,” said the PMO.
Israel’s new policy will allow an inflow of construction material into the Gaza Strip for projects approved by the Palestinian Authority or under the auspices of international supervision, including schools, health facilities, water, and other basic infrastructure.
The change in policy is also aimed at improving economic activity in the coastal territory, said the PMO. The new policy was also to allow humanitarian aid to be brought into Gaza in a more effective way and to ease movement in and out of the coastal territory, said the PMO.
Israel would consider further easing its siege as the situation on the ground improved, said the PMO. It would also continue to inspect every item brought to the Ashdod Port bound for the Gaza Strip.
The PMO emphasized in its statement that its defense regime along the Gaza border would remain in place and that Israel still sees Hamas as a terrorist organization.
The Prime Minister’s Office announced late last week, after two days of extensive deliberations, that the security cabinet had agreed in principle to relax Israel’s three-year blockade on the Gaza Strip.
The ministers decided after their marathon talks on Wednesday and Thursday to “liberalize” Israel’s policy regarding the entry of goods into the Hamas ruled territory, which was set in place after the Islamist movement violently seized control over the Gaza Strip in 2007.
The aim of the discussions was to approve a plan drafted by Netanyahu in coordination with the United Nations’ Middle East envoy Tony Blair.
Over the course of the six-hour meetings last week, ministers voiced their opinions regarding the blockade and the defense establishment presented the plans for the “liberalization” of the blockade. However, upon concluding the discussions, the ministers did not vote on any binding practical draft of the decision.
Prior to the vote on Sunday, the government was bound by a policy regarding the blockade decided by the security cabinet under former prime minister Ehud Olmert.
Israel had “every intention to increase the transfer of goods into Gaza even before the cabinet meeting,” a senior defense official said last week, indicating a change in the government’s policy even before a binding decision.
“We have notified the Palestinians, regardless of the cabinet meeting, that we will allow the entry of food items, house wares, writing implements, mattresses and toys. Beyond that, we have not said a thing,” the official said.
The international community welcomed Israel’s announcement last week that it planned to ease its land blockade of the Gaza Strip. The White House called the announcement a “step in the right direction” and said the Obama administration hoped to see an expansion in the scope of goods flowing into the coastal territory.
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