Strawberries grown in the Palestinian Gaza Strip are seen prior to being loaded onto a truck for export across Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and the southern Gaza Strip on November 28, 2010, after Israel granted special approval for the export of a small amount of Palestinian Strawberries and flowers from the Gaza Strip to the European market. Two trucks loaded with flowers and Strawberry will be able to leave the impoverished territory over the next two weeks with European coordination. Sealed off from the outside world, Gaza's farmers are entering their fourth year of export restrictions, imposed by Israel after the Islamist Hamas party took control of the impoverished strip. Getty Images.
A Palestinian farmer holds a box of freshly harvested strawberries for export on a farm in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip November 27, 2010. Gaza farm workers rose at dawn on Sunday to witness the start of exports to Europe that they hope will herald a wider expansion of trade. The Gaza farmers hope to send 1,000 tonnes of strawberries to Europe through a partly eased Israeli blockade in the coming week. Picture taken November 27, 2010. To mach feature PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL/GAZA-EXPORTS. Reuters.
A Palestinian woman carries flowers for export on a farm in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip November 28, 2010. Gaza farm workers rose at dawn on Sunday to witness the start of exports to Europe that they hope will herald a wider expansion of trade. This is not the first time Israel has permitted exports of Palestinian strawberries and flowers from Gaza. But it coincides with the enlargement of a logistics hub at the Kerem Shalom crossing point in the south. Reuters.
JERUSALEM – Israel has only marginally eased its three-year-old blockade of the Gaza Strip, leaving business and construction largely frozen in the impoverished and war-damaged Palestinian territory, a report by several aid groups said Tuesday.
The groups accused Israel of ducking promises to ease the blockade's effects on civilians, a pledge it made under pressure after a deadly Israeli commando raid in May on an international flotilla protesting the restrictions. The report said Israel is allowing in more food and some building materials but is dragging its feet on major construction projects and still banning most exports.
"We aren't seeing an easing of the blockade compared to Israel's declared aims," said Karl Schembri of Oxfam, among the 21 groups behind the report. Others included Amnesty International and Save the Children.
"It's not having any impact," he said.
Government spokesman Mark Regev said Israel is easing the blockade but must check everything entering Gaza.
"We want to see civilian goods reach the civilian population of the Gaza Strip," he said. "Obviously goods have to be checked to make sure weapons and dual-use goods don't enter the Gaza Strip."
Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade on Gaza after the Islamic militant group Hamas seized the coastal strip of 2.5 million people in June 2007.
The blockade kept out raw materials for factories and construction — hindering economic recovery and reconstruction after Israel's winter 2009 offensive against Hamas, which left thousands of Gaza buildings in ruins. It also penned in residents, banned exports and restricted fuel to Gaza.
Gaza residents largely made due with goods — ranging from cows to computers — smuggled through tunnels under the border with Egypt.
Israel says the blockade seeks to weaken Hamas, but the militant group obtains building materials, weapons and cash through the tunnels, meaning shortages most harshly affect civilians.
On May 31, Israeli commandos raided an international flotilla seeking to break the blockade, killing nine activists on a Turkish ferry boat. The incident drew international criticism, and Israel said it would ease the blockade and facilitate large projects supervised by the United Nations and other aid groups.
The report said Israel's easing has focused on food and consumer products, which have largely replaced dusty, tunnel-smuggled goods on Gaza's shelves. But it has had little effect on larger projects.
The U.N. has plans to build 100 schools and 10,000 housing units, some to replace those destroyed in the war. The report said it has been able to start only 7 percent of these and that even they have been slowed by Israeli bureaucracy and strict border crossings.
Israel has allowed other groups to begin work on projects like sewage plants, wells and community centers, but the report describes these as marginal compared with Gaza's needs.
Overall, 11 percent of the materials entering Gaza before the blockade are now getting in, the report said.
The report noted that Israel has allowed in materials like wood for building and butter and fabric for factories. But it said the continued ban on most exports and raw materials keeps 65 percent of Gaza's factories shut.
Some 40 percent of Gazans are unemployed and 80 percent depend on aid.
I'm nauseated already. None of the sob stores at Reuters, AP or Getty Images mentions Gilad Shalit rotting in a hellhole.