Israel eases blockade of Gaza Strip

Gaza workers greet trucks carrying supplies after they are let through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel

Gaza workers greet trucks carrying supplies after they are let through the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel

The Israeli cabinet has agreed to ease the blockade on Gaza and allow all foodstuffs and building materials into the Strip. At the same time, the naval blockade will stay in place and the IDF is preparing to stop further flotillas from reaching Gaza.

The cabinet decided to abolish the previous list of approved food products and allow in any sort of supply which is not arms and cannot be used to manufacture arms. Building materials will also be allowed in for any project approved by the United Nations agencies, in an attempt to stop them being used to build fortifications. The cabinet also approved the use of more crossings into Gaza to allow more supply convoys through.

The naval closure of Gaza will stay in place to prevent arms shipments.

The decision was agreed upon in advance with the American administration, the UN and EU. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the cabinet's decision will help Israel to deflect international criticism.

"We have to understand that these are attempts by Iran and Hizbollah to break the naval and security blockade of Gaza," he said.

Meanwhile the enquiry commission headed by former Supreme Court judge Yaakov Turkel began preparing to hold hearings on the government's response to the flotilla. The two international observers, Lord Trimble and former Canadian General Ken Watkin, are expected to arrive in Israel next week to attend the first meetings.

Despite the cabinet's decision, there are still groups and governments planning to defy the naval blockade. The most immediate worry now is that three boats being prepared in Lebanon - one of which is staffed entirely by women, with links to Hizbollah - will set sail and arrive within a few hours at the closure area off the coast of Gaza, via Cyprus. Israel is trying to use international pressure on the Lebanese and Cypriot governments to prevent this new flotilla from setting sail.

In addition, a boat organised by the Iranian Red Crescent set sail on Sunday, aiming to arrive at Gaza in two weeks.

A senior military source said this week: "We have two options, just as we have always been saying. They can act peacefully and we will escort them to Ashdod from where the supplies can go to Gaza after inspection, or we will have no choice but to use force if they try and resist violently. We have learnt the lessons from the Turkish flotilla and we will be much better prepared."

    Last updated: 3:33pm, June 24 2010