END THE SIEGE OF GAZA – Hamas condemns Blair-Israel manoeuvre

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Marchers in London on June 12 condemn the Israeli attack on the siege-breaking ‘Freedom Flotilla’ to Gaza
Marchers in London on June 12 condemn the Israeli attack on the siege-breaking ‘Freedom Flotilla’ to Gaza

ISRAEL’S move to relax its four-year blockade of the Gaza Strip is simple propaganda, Hamas said Thursday.

The Islamic movement ‘considers Israel’s decision to increase the types and amounts of goods allowed into Gaza as an effort in beautifying the siege in the hopes of legitimising and extending it,’ Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a statement.

Israel is ‘misleading world opinion by pretending to ease the siege,’ Abu Zuhri said. ‘The occupation did what it had to do.’

Hamas was replying to Israel’s National Security Cabinet decision to ease a number of restrictions imposed on goods entering the Gaza Strip.

Under this ‘adjustment of the seige’ in response to the Freedom Flotilla’s attempts to break it, the port will remain closed, the naval blockade will continue, and the Eerez crossing will close, with Israel continuing to impose a 300-metre wide ‘no go zone’ that amounts to some 67 square kilometres of the tiny Gaza Strip.

A statement was issued by Israel’s National Information Directorate, saying that the ‘method’ of the siege would be changed in order to allow more civilian goods into Gaza.

The announcement follows promises by Quartet (Russia, the US, EU and UN) envoy and Iraq war leader Tony Blair, who told reporters last week that Israel would soon issue a list of banned goods, rather than the current policy that includes a secret list and an ad hoc policy that kept Gazans and aid workers guessing as to what might be allowed in.

Cardamon and jam were among the previously banned goods.

The statement said that, over the increase in the variety of goods that would be permitted into Gaza, crossings officials would ‘expand the inflow of controlled materials for civilian projects and maintain the existing security measures in order to prevent the entry of weapons,’ Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth news site said.

The pro-Zionist Blair told BBC’s Today Programme that the EU would participate in the monitoring of aid, in order to allow more goods to reach more civilian beneficiaries who still need to repair their homes following their destruction by Israeli attacks during the last war on Gaza in the winter of 2008/9.

The EU would also be involved in the Rafah crossing, to help ensure it stayed open, Blair said, hinting that the Palestine Authority (PA) would also assist in the endeavour.

The Israeli newspaper also said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had instructed his transportation minister to ensure the crossings could handle the increased goods.

Since 2007, two crossings have been closed permanently, including the fuel transfer station, the infrastructure of which was moved to the southernmost Kerem Shalom crossing.

The bulk goods crossing, where conveyor belts move large amounts of supplies into the Strip, may also need updating following claims that bands were broken in 2009.

According to the Yedioth newspaper, the plan of the transportation minister will also include the closure of the Erez pedestrian crossing for Gaza residents.

The site said civilians would be directed to the newly opened Rafah crossing with Egypt, ‘removing Israel’s responsibility on the land and later on other routes in the air and sea in order to prevent international pressure.

‘Israel will maintain the right to conduct security measures in order to prevent the smuggling of weapons.’

The decision did not address key concerns raised by reports from the ICRC and Oxfam recently, which said dependence on international aid in Gaza was only plunging the economy into deeper straits.

According to reports, the cabinet decision did not include allowing exports from Gaza, nor would it put an end to the naval blockade of Gaza.

‘Israel has allowed in an increased number of food items such as coriander, jam, biscuits and other sweets.

‘While this is certainly welcome, what Gaza needs most are jobs, raw materials for reconstruction and for industry, and the ability to export – not just short-term aid and consumer products like jam that, without a job, they can’t afford to buy,’ Executive Director of Oxfam International Jeremy Hobbs said in a statement about the organisation’s report.

Meanwhile, the ICRC released a strongly worded statement, saying the ‘dire situation in Gaza cannot be resolved by providing humanitarian aid,’ and calling Israel’s policy of siege ‘a collective punishment imposed in clear violation of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law.’

The Gazan economy ‘will continue to unravel unless the blockade is completely and immediately lifted,’ Oxfam said, calling on members of the Middle East Quartet, including EU foreign ministers meeting on Monday, to ‘pressure Israel to fully and immediately lift the blockade by opening all crossings, allowing trade to resume and people to circulate’ – a call firmly backed by the ICRC.

Meanwhile the UN, after intense diplomatic negotiation with Israel, has agreed to oversee the transfer of 70 truckloads of humanitarian aid that Israel seized from the Freedom Flotilla of six ships on 31 May.

Thirty loaded trucks have been stuck at the Kerem Shalom crossing into the Gaza Strip, while another 40 truckloads of aid are being stored in warehouses operated by the Israeli Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) for the Strip.

The trucks contain desperately needed medical supplies, such as hospital beds and wheelchairs, and building materials.

‘The UN will take responsibility for the delivery of the aid cargo,’ Ahmed Yousef, deputy foreign minister of the Hamas-led government in Gaza, said. He added that some other international aid relief organisations would join the UN in the distribution process.

The government in Gaza initially decided not to receive any of the Flotilla’s aid before the release of those passengers ‘kidnapped and held hostage’ by Israel and not until all the Flotilla’s relief supplies were greenlighted to enter Gaza, Ghazi Hamad, head of borders and crossings under the Hamas-led government, told IRIN.

Ian Domintz, an official from the Israeli Prisons Authority spokesperson’s office, said all the Flotilla passengers had been released, including the four Israeli citizens.

According to an Israeli military security source, who spoke to the media on condition of anonymity, ‘The CLA would allow all of the aid to enter Gaza if Fatah officials coordinate the entry of the aid and international organisations – like UNRWA (the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees) – take responsibility for distributing the building materials.’

‘Israel has no communication with Hamas, we speak to Fatah officials at the borders,’ said the Israeli security official.

More than three-quarters of Gaza’s 1.5 million residents are food-insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity, relying heavily on aid subsidies, according to the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

Negotiations are under way between the Turkish NGO Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), which co-sponsored the Flotilla aid ships, and UN agencies in Gaza as to who will control the aid distribution, said IHH deputy director Osama Obdo in Gaza.

‘IHH headquarters agreed that the UN will coordinate the aid distribution and submitted a beneficiary list to UNSCO (UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process),’ said Odbo, adding that IHH had concerns that material the organisation shipped for specific purposes, such as heavy generators for Gaza municipality to operate public water wells, might instead be allotted to UN projects.

The PLO’s chief negotiator Dr Saeb Erekat commented that ‘the Israeli security cabinet vote to ease its land blockade of the Gaza Strip is not sufficient.’

He added: ‘With this decision, Israel attempts to make it appear that it has eased its four-year blockade and its even longer-standing access and movement restrictions imposed on the population of Gaza.

‘In reality, the siege of the Gaza Strip, illegally imposed on Palestinians, continues unabated.

‘The facts are that a siege against 1.5 million people in the Gaza Strip continues. Either Israel lifts the siege completely or it continues to violate international law and basic morality.

‘Israel has used a so-called “white” list of only 114 items allowed into the Gaza Strip.

‘Palestinian basic needs require at least 8,000 basic items that continue to be prohibited. These include essential materials for rebuilding and for waste-water treatment for the most basic living standards.’

He added that ‘during the first three months of 2007 36,000 trucks entered the Gaza Strip compared to 3,600 trucks that have been permitted to enter during the first three months of 2010.

‘Today, 90 per cent of the Gaza Strip’s civilian population relies on the World Food Organisation and the United Nations Relief Works Agency.’

Dr Erekat stated that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is constantly calling on world leaders to bring about a complete lifting of the Israeli siege.

Dr Erekat concluded by calling on the international community ‘to take immediate and effective actions to conclusively end the siege on the Gaza Strip, and end the occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

‘The Gaza Strip remains occupied by Israel and the occupying power’s siege constitutes collective punishment against the Strip’s civilian population. It is time for the international community to take real action to end the Israeli siege of Gaza once and for all.’