Officials say top Israeli Cabinet ministers to vote on easing Gaza blockade

By Amy Teibel, AP
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Israeli ministers to vote on easing Gaza blockade

JERUSALEM — Israel will significantly ease its bruising blockade of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, officials said, in an effort to blunt the widespread international criticism that has followed a deadly Israeli commando raid on a blockade-busting flotilla.

Senior Cabinet ministers were meeting to limit restrictions to a short list of goods, such as cement and steel, which Israel says militants could use in their battle against the Jewish state.

But even those goods would be allowed in to an undetermined extent in coordination with the United Nations, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not been officially announced.

Israel, with Egypt’s cooperation, has blockaded the Palestinian territory by land and sea ever since Hamas militants, with a violent anti-Israel agenda, seized control of Gaza three years ago. For the most part, only basic humanitarian goods have been allowed in.

The blockade was designed to keep out weapons, turn Gazans against their militant Hamas rulers and pressure Hamas to free a captive Israeli soldier. It did not achieve those aims, however, and both weapons and goods continued to flow into the territory through a large network of smuggling tunnels built under the Gaza-Egypt border.

But although the blockade deepened the poverty in Gaza and confined 1.5 million people to a tiny patch of land, it did not provoke an international outcry until Israeli commandos killed nine Turks two weeks ago during a raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.

The Haaretz newspaper on Wednesday quoted international envoy Tony Blair as hailing the expected vote by the Israeli ministers.

“It will allow us to keep weapons and weapon materials out of Gaza, but on the other hand to help the Palestinian population there,” Blair was quoted as saying. “The policy in Gaza should be to isolate the extremists but to help the people”

Blair represents the Quartet of Mideast negotiators — the U.S., European Union, U.N. and Russia.

will not be displayed