US-Israel talks must seek end to Gaza blockade
Amnesty International reiterated its call on Israel to completely lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip as Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu met US President Barack Obama in Washington this week.The two leaders are to enter a second day of talks on Wednesday, two days after Israel's announcement that consumer goods will be allowed into Gaza under their new rules.However, despite the easing of the blockade, crucial building materials continue to be restricted. There is also no change to the general ban on exports or the movement of people, while the blockade remains in place through Israel’s tight control of Gaza’s airspace, territorial waters and its crossing points with Israel. “Any easing of the blockade is welcome, but this falls far short of what is needed to end the harm being caused to Gaza’s population, four out of five of whom are dependent on aid,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director.“Palestinians are still trapped in Gaza and still face restricted access on the basic construction materials that they need to rebuild their homes,” said Malcolm Smart. “It is vital that the bar on exports from Gaza is lifted if Gazans are to be able to rebuild their lives and the economy.”Israel says all items will be allowed into Gaza except arms, munitions and what it describes as “dual-use” items. Building materials such as steel and cement will only be allowed into Gaza under Israeli supervision and if they are to be used in projects overseen by the UN or other international agencies. They must also have been authorized by the Palestinian Authority based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.“Banning the vast majority of exports, raw materials and the movement of people has destroyed the economy of Gaza and pushed its population into unemployment, poverty and dependency on aid agencies for survival. These problems will not be solved while the blockade continues,” said Malcolm Smart.The continued restriction on building materials for general use will further delay the reconstruction by Palestinians in Gaza of their homes, businesses and other property destroyed in Israeli attacks in December 2008 and January 2009. More than 3,000 homes and hundreds of other properties including factories, farms and government buildings were destroyed, and more than 20,000 damaged, in Israel's military operation “Cast Lead”.Israeli restrictions prevent the movement of Palestinians through the crossing points from Gaza into Israel in all but a handful of cases, generally in exceptional humanitarian cases. “Instead of continuing these restrictions, Israel must comply with its obligations as the occupying power under international law and immediately lift the blockade in its entirety,” said Malcolm Smart. BackgroundAfter Hamas took control in Gaza in June 2007, the existing Israeli policy of closure was tightened to a blockade restricting the entry of food, fuel and other basic goods. Movement of medical cases in and out of the area became restricted and delayed. Gazan families are not allowed to visit relatives in Israeli jails. This situation was made worse by the general closure of the Rafah crossing (Gaza’s single crossing point with Egypt) to daily use by the Egyptian authorities. After 2007 Rafah was opened only intermittently to allow some occasional movement. Following Israel’s military action on 31 May against the aid flotilla in international waters outside Gaza, the Egyptian authorities announced they were opening the Rafah crossing point “indefinitely”.However, Egypt has yet to permit fully free passage of Palestinians into its territory, allowing entry only to Palestinians with specially obtained permits. As the occupying power, Israel bears the foremost responsibility for ensuring the welfare of the inhabitants of Gaza.