x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Gaza blockade still in force, says report

A report by 22 humanitarian organistations finds Israel's partial lifting of a blockade on imports has barely improved life for residents in Gaza.

A Palestinian woman walks past a petrol pump at a fuel station. Fuel in Gaza is supplied primarily from the tunnels via Egypt, but is of poor quality. Nearly all goods for sale in Gaza have been smuggled from Egypt via smuggling tunnels, bringing in food, fuel, livestock, motorcycles and medicine. 
Warrick Page/Getty Images
A Palestinian woman walks past a petrol pump at a fuel station. Fuel in Gaza is supplied primarily from the tunnels via Egypt, but is of poor quality. Nearly all goods for sale in Gaza have been smuggled from Egypt via smuggling tunnels, bringing in food, fuel, livestock, motorcycles and medicine. Warrick Page/Getty Images

A partial lifting of Israel's blockade on the Gaza Strip has barely improved life for residents of the Palestinian coastal enclave, a coalition of humanitarian groups said today.

A report by 22 organisations, entitled "Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade," says an Israeli pledge to liberalise the import of materials for UN and other international building projects has only dented a backlog.

"Israel has so far only approved the import of materials for 25 UNRWA construction projects for schools and clinics, a mere seven per cent of UNRWA's entire reconstruction plan for Gaza," the new report said of the UN Relief and Works Agency, charged with caring for Palestinian refugees.

"Even for these approved projects, only a small fraction of the required construction materials has actually been permitted to enter Gaza so far," it added.

"Only a fraction of the aid needed has made it to the civilians trapped in Gaza by the blockade," said Jeremy Hobbs, director of Oxfam International, in a joint statement accompanying the report.

But the study provoked an angry response from Israel, with the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) slamming the assessment as "biased and distorted" in a statement.

An Israeli military report on shipments said that during October, 223 truckloads of cement, iron, aggregate and other supplies were delivered for five UNRWA projects, three USAID programmes, and for work on water treatment plants supervised by the World Bank and by German development bank KfW.

The military also said it was allowing exports of Gaza-grown flowers and strawberries from November 28.

A devastating 22-day Israeli military offensive, which ended in January 2009, reduced much of Gaza's infrastructure and many private homes to rubble.

For 18 months afterwards, Israel banned the import of cement and other construction materials, saying that it was likely to be used by the militant Hamas group to fix bunkers, tunnels and other fortifications.

It relented in July this year, in response to mounting international pressure to ease restrictions after nine Turkish activists were killed in a May 31 commando raid on a flotilla of aid ships trying to breach the blockade.

In response to claims in the report, COGAT said since the government decision to ease the blockade, the number of trucks entering Gaza on a daily basis had increased "by 92 per cent".

With regards to the broad ban on exports, COGAT said the issue was "intrinsically connected to security and logistical concerns at the Kerem Shalom crossing," adding that Israel was renovating the terminal to increase its capacity in a project due to be finished in mid-2011.