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Israel's easing of Gaza blockade doesn't address banking, travel rules

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"This is significant. It is what the international community has been asking for,'' says a Western-based diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity. At the same time, "the international community doesn't want to get excited about an announcement. Inevitably there's going to be a degree of caution.''

But former Prime Minister Blair, who negotiated the relaxation with Israel, said in a statement that he "strongly" endorsed the decision and that he expected the measure to "radically'' change the flow of goods into Gaza. "Plainly, there are still issues to be addressed and the test, of course, will not be what is said but what is done,'' he said.

'Not the end of the blockade'

Indeed, critics warned that the decision does not address freeing up Gaza's agricultural exports to Europe, or the reopening of Israel's main commercial crossing into Gaza at Karni. The policy change also doesn't mention whether Israel will allow its banks to reestablish ties with Gazan banks, or whether civilians will be permitted to travel between Gaza and the West Bank.

"It is not the end of the blockade,'' says Sari Bashi, the director of the Israeli nongovernmental group Gisha, which has pressed to lift movement restrictions.

"For the first time since June 2007, Israel is talking about the need to allow economic activity in Gaza. The changes announced last night are far from sufficient to make that happen."

An Israeli government official told the Monitor that exports and banking provisions are still being discussed.

Netanyahu under fire for caving to pressure

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under criticism at home for caving to international pressure and strengthening Hamas, which had called for an end to the blockade.

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