Israel Talks Begin On Easing Gaza Blockade

Israeli cabinet meets to weigh easing Gaza blockade.

BySimon Mcgregor-wood
June 16, 2010, 6:03 AM

JERUSALEM, June 16, 2010 -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will reconvene his security cabinet Thursday to consider a plan for relaxing the Gaza blockade.

Discussions were started in a meeting today, during which the cabinet was briefed by security officials. That meeting was concluded without decision other than to resume talks on Thursday, according to an Israeli government source.

Netanyahu and the Quartet's Middle East envoy Tony Blair have met several times in recent days to work out the details of a plan.

Israel has faced mounting international criticism for its tough economic sanctions against Gaza, particularly in the aftermath of its deadly naval raid of a Turkish backed aid flotilla which resulted in the death of nine Turkish activists.

Under the new deal Israel will publish a list of banned products which it believes could be used by Hamas in Gaza to build its military strength. All other products will be allowed to enter Gaza after inspection according to media reports. There will still be restrictions on cement and steel for reconstruction but increased volumes will be let through in coordination with the UN.

Despite the expected easing of restrictions, there is no sign Israel is prepared to lift the naval blockade. The 10,000 tons of aid carried by the Turkish aid flotilla was offloaded by the Israelis who then offered to transfer some of it to Gaza. Hamas refused saying it was up to the Turks to decide whether it should come in, and in protest of the fact that Israel refused to transfer the cement and other construction materials included in the shipment, now be allowed under UN control.

Hamas has yet to respond to the new plan.

Israel's Haaretz newspaper quoted Tony Blair as saying he expected the Israelis to approve the new system.

"It will allow us to keep weapons and weapon materials out of Gaza, but on the other hand to help the Palestinian population there," he said.

Approval of this new system will be welcome at Gaza City's main al Shifa hospital and throughout Gaza's health sector. In the hospital's kidney dialysis unit a shortage of drugs and spare parts of equipment has led to a rationing of treatment.

Regional director of the World Health Organization Tony Laurence told ABC News in a telephone interview, "No question the blockade is affecting the general population and the health care system. It is simply not possible to maintain healthcare under the conditions of siege."

Israel To Weigh Easing Gaza Blockade

Dr Abdullah Kishawi, director of the dialysis unit, said, "Under Israel's blockade and occupation we have seen a 40 percent shortage in the drugs and spare parts we need to run this unit at full capacity. Patients who would normally get four sessions of dialysis a week are down to two."

The result is a decline in the patients' health and long-term prospects for survival, he said.

Israel says it does not restrict the flow of drugs or medical equipment but according to the WHO the blockade has led to serious delays in the delivery of supplies.

"Israel lets equipment in but it is very slow. We have hundreds of items of equipment that have been waiting in a warehouse in Israel for six months. Things like x-ray machines, CT scanners, and batteries for life-saving equipment. We need to get those to the people of Gaza as soon as possible," Laurence said.

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