Israel Allows Clothes, Shoes Into Blockaded Gaza for First Time

Palestinian officials say 10 truckloads will be arriving Thurs.; Gaza merchants: Amount of goods insufficient.

Israel will allow a shipment of clothes and shoes to be delivered to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip for the first time in its almost three-year-old tight blockade of the enclave, Palestinian officials said on Monday.

They said the first 10 truckloads would be arriving via the Israeli-controlled Gaza border point on Thursday.

Israel is under international pressure to relax its blockade, which the United Nations says punishes Gaza's 1.5 million people over their leaders - the Islamist group Hamas, considered by Israel and others a terrorist organization.

Israel prohibits shipments of cement and steel to Gaza on the grounds that Hamas could use them for military purposes.

Its long list of controlled goods also includes items that critics say have no apparent military value, such as children's crayons and books.

Gaza has been getting most of its consumer goods via tunnels from neighboring Egypt, operated by smugglers who add on hefty surcharges. Gaza merchants said 10 truckloads would not fill their stocks and demanded that Israel release goods long held in its sea ports.

Egypt is building an underground wall to block the tunnels, which have been frequently bombed by the Israeli air forces since Israel's offensive against Hamas 14 months ago in which some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.