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Gaza blockade shows no signs of loosening
Published Tuesday 02/09/2014 (updated) 05/09/2014 11:15
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(MaanImages/file)
DUBAI (IRIN) -- Nearly a week after a ceasefire agreement that was believed to include the partial lifting of the blockade on Gaza, no restrictions have been eased, say humanitarians and border guards.

NGOs are eager to increase aid to the Palestinian region after a 50-day Israeli bombing campaign left over 2,000 dead, thousands wounded and much of the enclave's infrastructure in ruins, but access rules continue to present huge challenges.

While the exact terms of the ceasefire agreement, reached last week between Israel and various Palestinian factions, have not been released, it was widely reported that Israel committed to easing its border sanctions in exchange for a cessation of hostilities, while Egypt, too, was expected to ease its blockade.

Though many of the most contentious issues were left for further negotiations due to take place in three weeks, humanitarian workers were hopeful aid and other access policies would be eased quickly.

Gaza has been under a sea and land blockade by Israel and Egypt since Hamas took power in 2007.

Yet at the three main crossings -- the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings into Israel and the Rafah border post to Egypt -- the previous policies have remained in place.

"At both Erez and Kerem Shalom for now there hasn't been any change in the regime of allowing passage for people and goods," said Maria Jose Torres, deputy head of office in the Occupied Palestinian Territory branch of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

She said the organization had hoped for more clarity on the opening up.

"We were expecting that the agreement of the ceasefire would have some kind of timeline for easing and lifting the blockade but so far we have nothing publicly. There might be something we are not aware of," she said, referencing ongoing indirect talks between Palestinian factions and Israel.

One of the key issues is reducing the number of goods for which access is limited.

Among those that Israel restricts are fertilizers, cement, steel cables and even some fabrics. Israel defines such goods as "dual use" -- meaning that while they are needed for the civilian population, they could also potentially be used by militant groups in attacks.

Wael Abu Omar, spokesperson for the authorities on the Gaza side of the Kerem Shalom crossing, also said officials had been expecting an immediate easing of restrictions and increase of traffic after the ceasefire.

However, he said policies had not changed and the number of trade trucks entering daily had remained roughly static at its wartime level of between 200 and 250.

"Honestly, we are going to have to wait and see what the days (ahead) hold for us. We are waiting for what has been promised but until now nothing has changed," he said.

Fikr Shaltoot, director of programs in Gaza for the UK-based Medical Aid for the Palestinians, said they too had been disappointed by the lack of change.

"We were hoping to see immediate change on all the crossings. So far I don't see any kind of improvement on this," she said, adding that the medical need in Gaza was acute.

"Even before the aggression, there were severe shortages of drugs - 28 percent of essential goods were at zero stock," she said. "Now the situation is critical."

Yet Paul Hirschson, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, told IRIN that as the exact terms of the ceasefire agreement had not been made public, much of the expectation had been based upon conjecture.

"I too have heard claims about things Israel and/or others are said to have agreed to. (but) to my knowledge all parties agreed to cease hostilities and through the Egyptians a conversation about the future will take place," he said.

"I suggest we allow the diplomatic conversation to progress."

At the Egyptian border, too, similar stringent restrictions remain, though hopes were raised for an easing on Aug. 28 when the World Food Programme was granted permission to send 18 food trucks through the Rafah crossing.

The deal was the first time since 2007 that the organization had used the crossing to deliver aid, which is normally limited to entry through Israel.

Yet WFP officials stressed that the deal was negotiated in recent weeks before the ceasefire. "Our regional bureau has been negotiating with the ministries in Cairo for five weeks for those 18 trucks," Sune Kent, WFP Palestine's head of logistics, emergency preparedness and security, said.

"Getting goods through Rafah requires continued and very close negotiations with the Egyptian authorities."

Seeking dual use agreements

As fears that the blockade will not be eased grow, the people of Gaza could be forgiven for experiencing a sense of déjà vu. In November 2012, following eight days of fighting, an agreement was struck between Hamas and Israel that was supposed to ease the blockade.

Many of the basic tenets of that deal were similar to what was reported of the newly-agreed one. Following the agreement, border policies were briefly eased, with Palestinians in Gaza having freer movement both to Egypt and Israel.

Yet while there were initial promising signs, the deal was never fully implemented - particularly after the pro-Hamas Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Egypt was overthrown by the country's military, a move supported by mass public demonstrations.

The country's new leader, former military general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, is hostile to Hamas and sanctions have increased.

This time, too, the threat of the deal collapsing is real, especially as there appear to be few enforcing mechanisms. Hirschson confirmed to IRIN that the terms of the agreement included no guarantees that either side would fulfill their side of the bargain.

If no policy changes are forthcoming in the coming days, analysts say humanitarian access may ultimately depend on seeking some consensus during the negotiations due to take place in Cairo in the coming weeks.

Finding common ground will be a monumental challenge. Among the key issues for Hamas are the release of hundreds of prisoners, and the construction of a port and an airport that would allow Palestinians freedom of movement and access to the world without Israeli control.

Nir Bons, a research fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Moshe Dayan Center for Middle East Studies, told IRIN that such goals would be unacceptable for Israeli politicians as long as Hamas remained in power.

Referring to the potential ports, he said: "Israel will not let the Palestinians have them unless there is a very different configuration (of power). So we are back to square one - Hamas remains in power, determined to continue (its attack until it reaches) Jerusalem. Israel cannot accept this."

Likewise, Israel's key demand - the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip - is a "non starter", according to Hugh Lovatt, the Israel and Palestine project coordinator at the European Council of Foreign Relations. "It is not realistic in any way," he said.

The fear, therefore, is that if more substantive talks stumble then the crisis will lead to nothing more than a return to the pre-war status quo - with no easing of the border controls.

Lovatt said that in such circumstances donors would potentially be hesitant to back relief schemes, particularly if they felt that by failing to tackle the underlying issues another conflict would be likely.

"If you are talking from the point of view as a European taxpayer, your money is going into Gaza to build things and then Israel comes and bombs it. There is an accountability issue," he said.

For the UN, the challenge is to help the parties find compromise solutions. The status of dual use goods is likely to be a key issue for lobbying.

"We are fully aware of the security issues that Israel has raised and the parties facilitating the negotiations, including the UN, are looking for solutions that would be acceptable (to the Israelis)," OCHA's Torres said. Among these would potentially be channeling dual-use items through specific organizations.

WFP's Kent said food items had been granted relatively easy access by the Israeli authorities throughout the conflict, with an average of one or two days' wait at the crossings. "It has not been a problem to get in lifesaving humanitarian assistance to Gaza. The Israelis kept the crossing open much more than previous conflicts," he said.

Yet he pointed out that with much of Gaza's infrastructure destroyed, food aid is only a short-term fix - stemming the humanitarian crisis over the longer term requires deals on restricted items such as cement and heavy machinery.

"You can't bring in bottled water for 500,000 people. You need to repair the water facilities. To do that you need technical equipment. that is the most cost-effective way of giving Gazans clean water," he said.

Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Institution think tank in Doha, said one way to help facilitate better access would be to continue moves towards a potential international mission to monitor borders.

In recent weeks, diplomatic moves have been made to discuss a potential European Union force to monitor the crossings with both Israel and Egypt, thus potentially assuaging some of Israel's security concerns while ensuring more access. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman has welcomed the idea.

"There is a growing acceptance of the need for more international involvement on the ground," Shaikh said, adding that it was too early to say exactly what form the force would take.
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1 ) Brian Cohen / Israel
02/09/2014 21:27
Get it through your thick heads, people - no loosening of the blockade until international guarantees are in place to prevent Hamas from getting more illegal weapons. Neither Egypt nor Israel is going to play the stupid game any more of pretending that Hamas is civilized - it is not. If Gazans want open borders, then they have to obey international laws and rules - and that means accepting the peace process and NOT shooting rockets at Israel. Hamas refuses both, so borders stay restricted.

2 ) zu / uk
02/09/2014 22:15
what about the weapons given to israel?? is it fair to arm one side, but stop the other from defending itself? where is the iron dome for the palestinians in gaza??

3 ) Johnny benson / USA
02/09/2014 22:25
No disarmament ...no blockade ....it's all that simple

4 ) Michael J. O'Neill / USA
02/09/2014 22:48
If Hamas is a terrorist organization then so is the Zionist state.

5 ) BDS / Canada
02/09/2014 23:02
Israel cannot be trusted. It broke all the agreements made after the previous massacres and Israel has done so again this time by breaking the cease-fire and targeting Gaza fishermen with its lethal weapons of mass destruction. All these are war crimes to commit deliberate genocide and destroy any possibility of normal life.

6 ) Altamash / India
02/09/2014 23:30
The occupier zionist regime is really a cruel regime.It has occupied the palestine land&has caused so much suffering to palestine people.It never cares for humanity&international law.It only wants war not peace. The occupier israel never wants to give the palestine people their rights&freedom.So,palestine people should unitedly prepare for the final liberation&freedom.

7 ) Hamas / and
02/09/2014 23:34
Gazans will see that extortion does not work.

8 ) Abdul / South Africa
03/09/2014 00:47
Brian Cohen/Israel-When did Israel obey any international laws,rules and UN resolutions?Israel is stealing land for the past 60years.Israel is a terrorist STATE !

9 ) some one / some where
03/09/2014 01:44
Zu/UK i know 99% of UK people are sympathy to terrorist because another 10 years it will be UK islamic republic yet i did not know that 99% are as stupid as you are or maybe you are from desert with destructive culture who shout rocket and what for you don't shout rocket to residential area you do not get hit it is not easy for idiot like you to understand this

10 ) Rangitoto / NZ
03/09/2014 01:48
Lets make it fair and equal both sides disarm The Zionist occupation forces are too insecure to be able to make peace

11 ) Rangitoto / NZ
03/09/2014 02:12
Brian -- With your Beligerant attitude no wonder the Zionist media cause was lost outright You are the Thick one

12 ) Gaza is today's Warsaw / Canada
03/09/2014 02:33
Israel is the butcher of Gaza, exactly what the Nazi regime did to the Warsaw ghetto.

13 ) JoeFattal / USA
03/09/2014 03:27
Israel works with two state of mind. The Israeli delegation went to Egypt to negotiate, they came with some agreements, they went back to Israel and it was approve. But Netanyahu has the last word. He refuse the agreement that his own delegation agreed on. So now who you going to trust. In a way Netanyahu even fooled the Egyptians that were given the impression they accomplish something. Its going to be hard to get even a deal if Gaza disarm. You just can't trust Israel.

14 ) Four / Truths
03/09/2014 04:11
1- Gaza insistence upon digging tunnels to attack Israel, and having guns, mortars, and rocket to fire at Israel also "shows no signs of loosening", so 2- Gaza other ceasefire demands will not be granted by Israel, and thus 3- Gaza traded 2,000 lives, 10,000 injuries, and wholesale destruction for just a few extra kilometers of fishing freedom, and 4- Gaza will lose even this small gain as soon as it fires the first inevitable rocket at one of Israel's cities !!!!

15 ) joey / phil
03/09/2014 04:13
the solution is to prosecute israel for its war crimes. then israel pay indemnification and reparation for its massacre in gaza. impose BDS to israel tn order to cooperate to hague and rome

16 ) @ Zu-2 / USA
03/09/2014 04:20
-1- Johnny-3 is correct. "Disarmament of Gaza means No blockade" from Israel, and Peace with Israel would mean prosperity too. But, Palestinians do Not want peace, and Hamas' "Seeds of Jihad" will continue to bear the most "bitter fruits", and -2- The "Palestinians in Gaza do Not need an Iron Dome to defending itself", since all that is required for Gaza's security is for Gaza to stop attacking it's neighbors to both the North & South.

17 ) 200 and 250. / trade trucks entering daily
03/09/2014 06:47
lol some blockade,

18 ) Henri / France
03/09/2014 11:12
@2 You maybe misinformed, but please take into account, Hamas was attacking Israel by shelling mortars and firing rockets and missiles into Israel since 2006. Please re-read nos. 1 & 2.

19 ) Pascal / Ireland
03/09/2014 18:25
Stop pointing at Hamas as being the reason for this. Israel was already killing Palestinians for 40 years before Hamas existed. In the West Bank Hamas is not in power, and still Israel kills Palestinians in the West Bank. Hamas has nothing to do with Israel's bloodlust for Palestinians. Only international sanctions can stop this, and it's sickening that the International community still allows the u$a to veto in the security council every time there is a resolution against israel.

20 ) Sulayman Ibrahim / USA
03/09/2014 21:23
USA/Israel/Britain are all Zionist/Terrorist states. Unless the international community imposes sanctions of their own against the big 3 Gaza and the Palestinian people will slowly wither away. Something needs to be done quickly...

21 ) inbound39 / New Zealand
04/09/2014 12:26
If Gazans want open borders, then they have to obey international laws and rules - and that means accepting the peace process........When Israel finally abides by International Law and its signed agreements then Israeli's can point the finger. Israel has violated International Law and operated outside its declared borders since its inception.

22 ) Day dreamer / Ireland
06/09/2014 00:42
The two sides are locked in a dead-end struggle, a race to the bottom with innocent lives paying the price We were lucky in Ireland that despite all our hundreds of years of occupation & violence, there seemed to be a will to move towards peace Disarmament happened some time after the road-map to peace was established, once trust was established on both sides. Can this ever happen between Israel / Palestinians..I dunno, but I really hope so Both sides have to take some risks for peace..

23 ) Cloverleaf / Uk
06/09/2014 18:04
@22 The problem Day dreamer is that as you rightly say both sides were willing to move forward to a peaceful solution (and without United States intervention, veto's or provision of arms to the British). Yes disarmament did come, but at the end, not the beginning. Peace comes to those who want it, but asymmetrical warfare is unfair (the kind we see from USRAEL) and only prolongs the conflict. Until those with power say NO to Israel, it will do what it likes. Stop enabling Israel & move forwards

24 ) Rose Lee / Romania/UK
06/09/2014 18:16
@12 - Gaza is todays Warsaw, only difference being that if you mention Jewish resistance to our politicians you will get applause or sympathy, mention Gaza resistance and they will call them terrorists. I guess it has to do with guilt, racism and a colonialist mind set to put it bluntly (fear of the "other").

25 ) spb / usa
08/09/2014 14:49
today with the advances in technology palestinians in gaza can print a 3D airport and sea port. what r they waiting for?

26 ) @ Rose-24 / Truth
08/09/2014 20:15
[a] Actually, it has absolutely nothing to do with "guilt or racism", and eveything to Hamas' war crime methods of targeting Israeli civilians and using Gaza civilians, mosques, hospitals, etc., as human-shields, for weapon arsenals and militant criminals !! [b] Israel's and the world's approach to Gaza will stay the same, as long as Hamas stays the same, and Hamas Has The Choice: - the "Gaza blockade shows no signs of Loosening" because - the Gaza militants shows no sign of Disarming !!

27 ) @ Clover-23 / USA
08/09/2014 20:24
Actually, the same argument works even better the other way: "Until those with power SAY NO TO HAMAS, it will do what it likes (rifles, mortars, abduction tunnels, rockets, terrorism, & war crimes). - Stop Enabling Hamas With Weapons and peace will move forward, and - Stop Enabling the PLO With Donations to fund their "authority", and compromises will be made, so that peace can move forward !!
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