JERUSALEM, (AFP) – Israel’s security cabinet on Wednesday voted to partially lift a ban on exports from Hamas-controlled Gaza that was first imposed four years ago, an official statement said.
“The security cabinet decided to implement new measures which will allow an increase in the export of goods from the Gaza Strip,” said the statement issued by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
“The measures are designed to improve the lives of the population, who live under the repression and terror imposed by Hamas,” it added, without giving details.
Israel relaxed restrictions on imports to Gaza in the face of an international outcry over a deadly commando raid on a flotilla attempting to break its Naval blockade of the territory on May 31.
But it maintained its export ban and tight restrictions on the movement of people to and from the Gaza Strip.
The Quartet of major players in the Middle East peace process – the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States – welcomed Wednesday’s decision but said there was still far to go in facilitating Gaza trade.
“It is a significant step forward and I welcome it,” Quartet envoy Tony Blair told a press conference in Jerusalem.
“It will allow, albeit limited, resumption of exports out of Gaza, but it means that for the first time in a long period of time things like furniture, textiles, other light industry will come out Gaza as well as agricultural produce,” the former British premier said.
“There’s a long way still to go on that and this would build up over time.”
Last month, a military spokesman said Israel was mulling easing the export ban from next year provided the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority checks all goods.
“We are preparing to give permission for the passage through Israeli territory of exports from Gaza, which could begin from the end of the first quarter of 2011 provided that the goods pose no security threat,” said Major Guy Inbar, spokesman for the army’s Gaza liaison office.
Israel would insist all “goods undergo prior inspection by representatives of the Palestinian Authority,” Inbar told AFP, adding Israel already coordinated with the authority’s representatives over imports into Gaza.
He said any resumption of exports “can only happen gradually,” because of the security imperatives and the logistical difficulties.
The security cabinet welcomed the improvement of the economic situation in Gaza since it began easing the blockade.
The statement listed 78 development projects in Gaza launched by international groups and approved by Israel in fields such as health, water, education and housing.
Israel first imposed the restrictions after the capture of a soldier by Gaza-based militants in a deadly cross-border raid in 2006 and tightened them the next year after the Islamist Hamas movement seized control of the territory.