Israel will significantly ease its three-year-old blockade of goods and material into Gaza, Quartet Middle East envoy Tony Blair announced Monday. He added that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will continue the maritime blockade and maintain restrictions on overland transfers of weapons and terror-related goods.
One immediate result of the new policy may be to undermine the latest attempts to launch massive fleets of ships to Gaza and try to engage the Israel Armed Forces into another military clash.
Following international pressure to ease the embargo following the flotilla clash more than two weeks ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu has agreed to permit the delivery of steel and cement to Gaza, subject to international supervision that the materials will not be used for Kassam rockets or underground bunkers. Blair did not say what mechanisms would be installed to keep Hamas from continuing to smuggle weapons.
The de facto Hamas government has smuggled anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles and long-range rockets that can strike metropolitan Tel Aviv, according to Israeli military intelligence officers. Early last year, the government of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, when current Kadima leader Tzipi Livni was Foreign Minister, agreed to end the Operation Cast Lead anti-terror war on condition that the United States install high-technology equipment to keep out weapons. The condition was not fulfilled, and Hamas continues to smuggle weapons through underground tunnels.
Although several maritime expeditions aimed at breaking the Israeli embargo have been intercepted by the Israeli Navy, the clash between Turkish terror activists, nine of whom were killed, and Israeli Navy commandos have resulted in the latest diplomatic pressure on Israel to left the embargo.
Prime Minister Netanyahu rejected Blair’s proposal to end the maritime blockade, and the Quartet envoy said that Israel “will maintain the blockade with respect to arms and combat material but they are prepared to let in goods that are necessary for people's ordinary lives."
He added that the changes may take weeks ort even months to implement
Israel previously has kept all Gaza crossings open for the flow of humanitarian aid, but Hamas terrorist attacks on trucks bring the aid forced the closure of transfer points, except for the Nahal Oz fuel depot and the Kerem Shalom crossing.
The same transfer point was the scene of a terrorist attack four years ago this month in which two Israeli soldiers were killed and Gilad Shalit was kidnapped. Blair did not mention the fate of Shalit, whose father Noam has asked that Israel hinge any easing of the blockade with the release of his son.
Blair said Israel soon will open the other two major crossings and significantly widen the list of item to be allowed into Gaza. He said, “We change from the so-called permitted list of items where things only come in if they on that list, to the prohibited list where goods come in unless they are on that list. This is a significant change.”
United Nations officials, after more than two years of accusations that Gaza Arabs are facing a humanitarian crisis, recently have admitted that the description is inaccurate. However, Jeremy Hobbs, Executive Director of Oxfam International, maintained that “The civilian population has been kept just above the bar of a humanitarian crisis.”