Jerusalem: Israel on Monday redefined the rules of its Gaza Strip embargo, spelling out on the eve of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu`s White House visit what will be restricted from entering the territory under a much-eased land blockade.
Officials said Israel would allow in virtually all consumer goods, bringing an end to the use of a narrow and often arbitrary list of permitted items. However, Israel will continue to restrict the flow of construction materials, desperately needed to rebuild damage from last year`s war against Israel. Such goods will only be permitted to enter under Israeli supervision for use in international projects.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the list was only being released later Monday.
Israel has been under intense international pressure to loosen its three-year choke hold on Gaza since Israeli commandos killed nine activists in a May 31 raid on a blockade-busting flotilla.
President Barack Obama, who is to meet with Netanyahu on Tuesday, has said the blockade is unsustainable and has called for it to be significantly eased. Other world leaders have demanded the embargo be lifted entirely.
Israel and Egypt closed Gaza`s borders after the Islamic militant Hamas group violently seized power in the territory three years ago. Under the old blockade rules, Israel permitted only a few dozen types of products, including basic food and medicine, into the territory.
Now, everything will be allowed into Gaza, except for items on the list.
The new rules will bring some relief to Gaza`s 1.5 million residents, who have become accustomed to shortages of basic items like instant coffee, spices and fresh meat, or been forced to depend on erratic deliveries of goods smuggled through tunnels along the southern border with Egypt.
But it remains unclear how much the order will help Gaza rebuild the damage caused by Israel`s three-week military offensive in the winter of 2008-2009. The operation, launched to stop Hamas rocket attacks, destroyed thousands of homes, buildings and other infrastructure.
An official familiar with the list said banned items include iron, steel, cinder blocks, chemicals, fertilizer, building aggregates and jeeps. Israel fears that Hamas could divert these items for military use. However, the official said such items would be permitted in coordination with the rival Palestinian government in the West Bank and international agencies overseeing construction projects.
Israel has previously allowed in only a trickle of construction materials for projects overseen by international aid agencies.
Other question marks remain, including whether Israel will allow the import of raw materials for Gaza`s manufacturing sector, which has been badly battered by the blockade. There were also no specifics on whether Gaza businesses would be permitted to export again. The ban on trade has devastated the territory`s manufacturing sector and cost tens of thousands of jobs.
And travel restrictions will continue to confine virtually all of Gaza`s 1.5 million people to the territory.