Government says decision to end trade ban on products such as furniture and textiles aimed at strengthening Gaza economy
Workers at a secondhand market in Gaza City,
where businesses have been devastated by the blockade.
Photo By Antonio Olmos
By Harriet Sherwood
The London Guardian
Israel is to allow exports from the Gaza Strip in a move to help businesses devastated by the blockade imposed on the territory in June 2007.
The security cabinet approved the move today after increasing demands for action by the international community in recent months.
The loosening of the exports moratorium will happen in two phases, according to an Israeli official.
The first – which will begin immediately but be implemented in stages – will cover agricultural products, furniture, textiles and ceramics. No details were given on the second phase.
There will be no change to the ban on allowing construction materials to enter Gaza freely. Thousands of buildings destroyed or damaged in the war almost two years ago have not been rebuilt or repaired due to the scarcity of building materials, which Israel argues could be used by militant groups for military purposes.
Since Israel eased its embargo on consumer goods six months ago under international pressure following the deadly assault on an aid flotilla trying to reach Gaza, the export ban has prevented significant recovery of local factories and small businesses.
Only limited cargoes of strawberries and flowers destined for Europe have been allowed to leave Gaza.
An Israeli government statement said: “The hope is to strengthen the Gaza economy. The civilians in Gaza, like the Israelis, are victims of the authoritarian Hamas regime that brutally oppresses the people of Gaza and targets Israeli civilians on our side of the frontier.”
Tony Blair, the representative of the Middle East Quartet of the EU, US, UN and Russia, welcomed today’s move.
“Allowing exports … will help strengthen the legitimate private sector and alleviate some of the hardship faced by local businessmen,” Blair said. “There is, of course, still much more to do for the people of Gaza, not least in the area of construction, water and power.”
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem also welcomed the move but said the true test would be in its implementation.
“Recovery will be a slow process,” the group said, pointing out that “in the past, even while allowing import and export, Israel placed arbitrary restrictions that impaired trade”.
It described Israeli control over Gaza’s borders as “collective punishment of the population”.
Omar Shaban, a Gazan economist, said the move to allow exports was “major progress”, adding: “For the economy to operate, we need two-way trading. This will complete the circle.”
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