Blair takes heart from Israeli offer to relax Gaza blockade

Israel was last night forced by concerted international pressure into promising to relax its three-year-old blockade of Gaza by allowing in all goods except those which could be used for military purposes by the Palestinian armed factions.

While the change of policy has yet to be tested in practice over the coming weeks, it appears to be a significant political concession to the demands of the international Middle East envoy Tony Blair, who pressed hard for a relaxation of the siege in the wake of the lethal commando raid on a pro-Palestinian flotilla three weeks ago.

The move, approved by the inner Security Cabinet and announced after yesterday's meeting – the fourth in a fortnight – between the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Mr Blair, representing the "quartet" of the US, EU, UN and Russia, means that Israel has agreed to Mr Blair's proposal to susbtitute a "banned list" of goods for the previous "allowed list" of around 100 items that has prevailed up to now.

Aid and UN agencies are likely to insist on the basis of past experience that the decision will have to be judged by whether the embargo is really relaxed in practice, and Mr Blair himself warned yesterday that "there were still issues to be addressed" and that "the test of course will be not what is said, but what is done".

But the former prime minister said that "the practical effect of this should radically change the flow of goods and material into Gaza" and that his office looked forward to working closely with the government of Israel and other partners on its implementation.

There was no explicit reference in the statement by Mr Netanyahu's office last night to raw materials needed to revive Gaza's paralysed private business sector let alone of the exports of agricultural and manufactured goods that used to flow from the territory before the blockade was imposed in June 2007.

Nor was there any sign that the Israeli government had yet committed to allowing such trade to revive. An Israeli official said that the easing of the blockade would allow in "civilian goods for civilian people" and added: "the direction is clear but we'll have to see how the policy evolves".

On the other hand it was difficult last night to see how a continued embargo on commercial raw materials could be reconciled with the first sentence of yesterday's Israeli statement. This said that the government would "publish a list of items not permitted into Gaza that is limited to weapons and war materiel, including problematic dual-use items. All items not on this list will be permitted to enter Gaza."

The statement also confirmed a decision taken last week to "enable and expand" the entry of "dual-use items" – among which Israel has so far listed cement and piping, which it believes could be used by Hamas for military purposes – for use in a limited number of internationally supervised infrastructure and reconstruction projects.

It did not appear to hold out any immediate prospect of reopening the major Israel-Gaza terminal at Karni but instead spoke of expanding the use of the "existing operating crossings" – of which the main one is the lower capacity Kerem Shalom. It did however pledge to open "additional land crossings ... when security concerns are addressed."

Yesterday's move comes amid concerns in Israel over the threat of a new attempt to break the naval blockade from Lebanese organisations. Last week Ehud Barak, the Defence Minister, warned the Beirut government that Israel would hold Lebanon directly responsible for any attempt to break the maritime blockade, which Israel has said it will not lift.

The Israeli human rights agency Gisha last night said it hoped that restrictions would now be "loosened" but added: "A policy consistent with international law would allow free passage of raw materials into Gaza, export of finished goods, and the travel of persons not just for 'humanitarian' reasons but also for work, study, and family unity – subject only to reasonable security checks."

Suggested Topics
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Java Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a...

SAP Functional Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £45,000 - £55,000.

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Functional ...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn