Gazans Get Halva, but Not Cookies

Israel eased its three-year blockade on the Gaza Strip this week, allowing in a number of previously banned food items, including coriander and instant coffee. The move came in the wake of worldwide condemnation following Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.

The Hamas government in Gaza has said it would ban entry of food items whose production in Gaza had been stopped because Israel is prohibiting the raw materials required for their production.

The Palestinian officials coordinating the flow of goods into Gaza said Israel has added a few items to those permitted to be brought through the border passes into Gaza, including jam, some spices, halva and razors.

Gazans, who already receive many of these items through the network of smuggling tunnels in the Strip, seemed unmoved by the announcement, which failed to address their lack of freedom of movement.

A Palestinian girl stands by sacks of humanitarian aid in Shatie refugee camp, in Gaza

The Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt has been open for eight days, mainly for medical patients in need of treatment or hospitalization overseas and foreign nationals. Every person crossing still requires prior coordination between Gazan and Egyptian officials.

Palestinian government spokesman Ghassan Khatib of Fatah said in Ramallah yesterday that as long as the border crossings between Israel and Gaza are closed to people and merchandise and the Gazan population is cut off from the West Bank, the closure has not been lifted.

He said opening only the Rafah border pass, or even a sea channel, would serve Israel's policy of severing the strip from the West Bank, to prevent the two-state solution.

Raed Fattouh, chief of the coordination committee for goods entry at the Palestinian side of the borders, said soda, juice, jam, spices, shaving cream, potato chips, cookies and candy were now permitted. He said Israeli military officials began approving the expanded list of permitted products in meetings with Palestinian liaison officials last week.

The National Economic Ministry of the Hamas government said it would not allow in Israeli cookies, juices, soft drinks and salads, which used to be produced in the strip prior to the blockade. The plants manufacturing these items in Gaza have been closed since Israel banned the import of raw materials required for production.

Since May, Israel has permitted bringing some 100 items (out of some 4,000 before the blockade ) into Gaza. The Gisha human rights advocacy group has released a report saying a large Israeli supermarket holds 10,000-15,000 items.

The expanded list is Israel's first tangible step to temper the uproar caused by last week's raid, but little more than snack foods and spices were added.

It still does not permit the most sought after items, such as cement, steel and other materials needed to rebuild the war-devastated territory.

Between May 30 and June 5 Israel allowed 464 trucks to bring merchandise to Gaza, compared to 631 before that, according to Oxfam figures.

Gisha reported that since Israel tightened the blockade on Gaza three years ago, an average of 2,300 trucks entered the strip every month, about a quarter of the number of trucks before 2007.

Last week, 19 trucks brought building materials into Gaza such as window panes, wood and aluminum for rehabilitation projects. However, to rehabilitate the ruins and meet the needs of the natural population growth, Gaza requires some four million tons of cement, 653 tons of steel and 129 million meters of electric cables, Gisha says.