The UN and international relief organizations have cautiously welcomed Israel’s easing of import restrictions on the Gaza Strip, but say only the complete lifting of the blockade can address the humanitarian crisis.
"We welcome any steps towards the rapid ending of the blockade. But to be clear, a blockade of any sort, eased or altered, remains a blockade and a collective punishment which is illegal under international law,” Chris Gunness, UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesperson, told IRIN.
“Ending the blockade will also mean bringing exports out of Gaza so that Gaza's economy, destroyed by the blockade, can be rebuilt,” he said.
Israel continues to prohibit exports from Gaza, which has a population of some 1.5 million Palestinians.
Israel said its new list of prohibited items is a first step towards easing its four-year blockade of Gaza. The list represents the first time Israel has publicly disclosed what can and cannot be brought into the Strip.
The new list is divided into two categories: items subject to specific permission, which comprises arms and munitions and “dual-use” goods and items; and construction items and materials for Palestinian Authority-authorized projects “implemented by the international community”. The latter includes cement, lime, concrete, iron and steel cables.
“Dual-use” items are defined as “liable to be used, side by side with their civilian purposes, for the development, production, installation or enhancement of military capabilities and terrorist capacities.”
Aid agencies have welcomed Israel’s new directive but are concerned over how it will be implemented.
“Medical equipment, like X-ray equipment and CT-scanners, and paramedical supplies like generators, computers and elevators, have been prohibited entry [in the past] as ‘dual-use’ items,” Mahmoud Daher, head of the World Health Organization (WHO) office in Gaza, said.
“Now the WHO anticipates all types of medical equipment and supplies will enter through all crossing points with no delay, but we are unclear about the future mechanism to implement Israel’s new policy,” he said.
For some, the new list will change little. Nehad Habboush owns a medical supplies company in Gaza City that used to manufacture medication before the blockade and said he did not have much hope in the new measures.
“There is a six month delay to import supplies like microscopes and ultra-sound equipment, and it can take years in some cases,” said Habboush. “Spare parts and raw materials to produce medication continue to be prohibited as ‘dual-use’ items.”
Israel has not made clear how items previously banned will get into Gaza. The Israeli controlled Kerem Shalom crossing is Gaza’s only commercial conduit and is already operating at maximum capacity, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
The much larger Karni crossing has been closed for the past three years. Israeli NGO Gisha has expressed concern that Israel has not committed to opening additional entry points.
Oxfam in Jerusalem has said there must be mechanisms to allow for the movement of people in and out of Gaza, including between Gaza and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory.