Tuesday, 2 September 2014

NGOs: Gaza blockade shows no signs of loosening

DUBAI (IRIN) -- Nearly a week after a ceasefire agreement that was believed to include the partial lifting of the blockade on Gaza, no restrictions have been eased, say humanitarians and border guards.

NGOs are eager to increase aid to the Palestinian region after a 50-day Israeli bombing campaign left over 2,000 dead, thousands wounded and much of the enclave's infrastructure in ruins, but access rules continue to present huge challenges.

While the exact terms of the ceasefire agreement, reached last week between Israel and various Palestinian factions, have not been released, it was widely reported that Israel committed to easing its border sanctions in exchange for a cessation of hostilities, while Egypt, too, was expected to ease its blockade.

Though many of the most contentious issues were left for further negotiations due to take place in three weeks, humanitarian workers were hopeful aid and other access policies would be eased quickly.

Gaza has been under a sea and land blockade by Israel and Egypt since Hamas took power in 2007.

Yet at the three main crossings -- the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings into Israel and the Rafah border post to Egypt -- the previous policies have remained in place.

"At both Erez and Kerem Shalom for now there hasn't been any change in the regime of allowing passage for people and goods," said Maria Jose Torres, deputy head of office in the Occupied Palestinian Territory branch of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

She said the organization had hoped for more clarity on the opening up.

"We were expecting that the agreement of the ceasefire would have some kind of timeline for easing and lifting the blockade but so far we have nothing publicly. There might be something we are not aware of," she said, referencing ongoing indirect talks between Palestinian factions and Israel.

One of the key issues is reducing the number of goods for which access is limited.

Among those that Israel restricts are fertilizers, cement, steel cables and even some fabrics. Israel defines such goods as "dual use" -- meaning that while they are needed for the civilian population, they could also potentially be used by militant groups in attacks. more


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