Road Shipments to Gaza Begin amid Uncertainty

Road shipments of goods to the Gaza Strip are under way following Israel’s decision to change the conditions of its blockade of the Palestinian territory.

Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston, reporting from the Keram Abu Salem crossing, said on Tuesday more than 100 lorries loaded with goods had begun arriving in the coastal enclave.

Israel has said it will allow the import of "civilian" goods, but will continue to restrict items they say could be used to build weapons, including cement and steel rods.

Previously, only products mentioned on lists drawn up by Israel were allowed into the territory.

The list of permitted items was never published and would change weekly.

Our correspondent said there was a lot of uncertainty about what kind of products Israel was planning to allow into Gaza.

"We know that Israel won’t allow the people of Gaza to export anything and we also know Israel won’t allow import of raw materials," she said.

‘Bit of Excitement’

Our correspondent said people greeted the news of items expected in the next few days with "quite a bit of excitement".

"Israel will be allowing spare parts for cars into Gaza. That hasn’t been allowed in for a few years although it has been smuggled through tunnels," she said.

"It will also allow oil for engines, tyres, spare parts for agriculture, furniture, make-up and perfume."

Officials at a freight terminal at the Israeli side of the crossing [known to Israelis as Kerem Shalom] said they were ready to handle up to 120 lorryloads a day of food and trade goods for Gaza as soon as Palestinian co-ordinators organised the extra capacity on their side.

"The list of items that will not be allowed into the Gaza Strip is still being concluded and will be published later," an official said.

At Keram Abu Salem, everything was offloaded in big corrals made of two-storey-high concrete slabs.

After the Israeli lorries left, the gates were closed, and Palestinian drivers coming in from the Gaza side reloaded the shipments.

Ahmed Yousef, the Hamas deputy foreign minister in Gaza, has dismissed Israel’s new conditions as a public-relations stunt and said it would not greatly improve conditions in Gaza.

"This is just another way for Israel to deceive the world," he told Al Jazeera on Monday.

The blockade of Gaza, implemented three years ago, has been criticised as collective punishment of 1.5 million Palestinians.

Under Pressure

Israel came under strong pressure to ease the blockade after its May 31 raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla ships killed nine activists, sparking an international outcry.

The naval blockade will remain even under the new rules.

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has said the new order "strengthens our position towards our friends" in the world.

"It pulls the rug out from under Hamas’s main propaganda tool and its patrons in Iran, who pretend there’s a humanitarian crisis in Gaza," he said on Monday.

Israel has said the siege is a necessary measure to prevent smuggling of weapons to Hamas, which rules the strip.

Hamas dismisses the Israeli reasoning as untrue.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s environment minister, admitted that the blockade did not achieve the desired effect of weakening Hamas.

"The blockade caused damage to us: it did not enable us to weaken the Hamas power or to speed up the release of Gilad Shalit," he told Israel army radio.

"One should not cling to principles that bring no profit and for which one has to pay."

Unfettered Access Urged

Critics say the new rules could still make it difficult to import building materials to rebuild the territory, which was heavily damaged during Israel’s 22-day assault which started in late December 2008.

Christopher Gunness of UNRWA, the United Nations relief agency that looks after Palestinian refugees, said: "We need to have the blockade fully lifted."

"The Israeli strategy is to make the international community talk about a bag of cement here, a project there. We need full unfettered access through all the crossings," he told the Reuters news agency.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, also repeated his calls for the total removal of the blockade.

He said that letting some materials in was not the way to end the suffering of Palestinians in the enclave.
(Al Jazeera and agencies)

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