In response to the international pressure that followed its botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in May, Israel significantly eased its blockade of the Gaza Strip as of July 5. Specifically, it switched from a limited list of products whose import was permitted, with everything else being forbidden, to a limited list of products whose entry is forbidden, with everything else being permitted.

Numerous products whose imports was previously banned - like paper, chocolate, books, hair conditioner and musical instruments - are therefore now allowed in. But according to the pro-Palestinian nongovernmental organization Gisha, imports are still only 40 percent of what they were before the blockade was imposed in June 2007.

There are two reasons for this. First, the principal cargo crossing into Gaza, the Karni crossing, is only partially open, and the alternative Kerem Shalom crossing cannot handle enough trucks per day to make up the difference.

Second, Israel still bans exports from the Strip. Hence manufacturers import few raw materials, because they have no way to market finished products beyond what the local Gaza market can absorb.

Another problem is that the list of banned imports includes many dual-use items, which can have either civilian or military purposes. Most critically, Israel includes construction materials in this category, though international lists of dual-use items do not. Thus it allows construction inputs into Gaza only for projects run by international agencies and approved by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.

From July through October 14, Gisha said, Israel let in only some 210 truckloads of cement, gravel and iron - less than one percent of what the Strip needs, based on its June 2007 level of imports. UNRWA estimates that at this rate, it will take 75 years to repair the damage done by Operation Cast Lead.

A senior official in the office of the coordinator of government activities in the territories said this description is inaccurate. He also said the volume of imports will rise substantially once planned improvements at Kerem Shalom, for which tenders were issued this months, are completed.