Israel eases blockade on the Strip, ‘excellent’ news says Gaza parish priest
The Jewish state has given the green light to reopen Kerem Shalom Crossing. Gaza’s fishing area has been expanded, water supply increased and local traders can more easily enter Israel. Fr Romanelli hopes “that there will be more [concessions] in the future [. . .] on medical, religious or family grounds”.
Gaza (AsiaNews) – This morning the Israeli government approved a series of measures to ease the blockade of the Gaza Strip, allowing among other things the opening of the main trade crossing with the Palestinian enclave to facilitate the entry of goods.
The announcement comes a day after the Jewish state lifted a ban in importing construction material, essential to repair the major damage caused by last May’s fighting.
In a statement, COGAT, the Israeli defence body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, said that the government approved expanding the Gaza Strip's fishing zone, opening the Kerem Shalom Crossing, increasing water supply to the territory, and increasing the number of Gazan traders allowed to enter Israel.
However, these steps were "conditional upon the continued preservation of the region's security stability for the long term."
In Gaza, the local Catholic parish priest, Fr Gabriel Romanelli, an Argentine member of the Incarnate Word, told AsiaNews that he received the news “through unofficial channels”.
In his view, this is “excellent” for the local population. “Desperate times call for extreme remedies, but if extreme remedies cannot be found overnight, small but important steps can still be taken and [Israel’s] decision goes in that direction.”
“Opening the crossing and allowing the passage of goods and people with new permits is important,” the clergyman said. “We can hope that there will be more in the future and not just for trade. Civilians also need to leave the Strip on medical, religious or family grounds, to reunite with relatives in East Jerusalem or in other parts of the West Bank.”
About two million people live in Gaza, an area that resembles an open-air prison, languishing under a tough economic and trade blockade imposed by Israel 15 years ago after Hamas took power.
A devastating 11-day conflict in May resulted in hundreds of casualties and injured people. More clashes followed with incendiary balloons launched against Israel and Israeli air strikes against targets in the Strip. However, the fighting never degenerated into open warfare.
Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade in 2007, after Hamas' victory in the Palestinian elections, which gave them control of the Strip.
According to Israel, the blockade is necessary to prevent the Islamist group from rearming. The latter has repeatedly called for the destruction of the Jewish state.
For activists and critics, the blockade amounts to collective punishment, restricting the movement of goods and people, with devastating effects on the Gaza economy.
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since 2008, and Israel has strengthened the blockade since the May conflict.