Middle East

Israel extends talks on easing Gaza blockade

A Palestinian labourer collects gravel at abandoned airport in Rafah
Image caption Restrictions on cement has made reconstruction difficult in Gaza

Israel's security cabinet has met to consider easing the blockade of Gaza, amid growing international pressure to end the embargo.

The cabinet is set to reconvene on Thursday after the meeting was adjourned without any decisions.

Israel's policy on Gaza has come under scrutiny since its navy attacked a flotilla of ships attempting to deliver aid to Palestinians last month.

Meanwhile, the UN says Israel has agreed to let it distribute the aid.

New list

Israel's security cabinet met to discuss how to ease restrictions on goods and materials allowed into Gaza.

The international Middle East Envoy, Tony Blair, has said that he was confident that Israeli leaders would agree to a partial lifting of the blockade.

Under a plan drawn up in co-ordination with Mr Blair, Israel could adopt a new list of banned items, rather than the current list of permitted goods, which critics claim is arbitrary.

Israel and Egypt tightened their blockade on Gaza after the Islamist Hamas movement took control of the Palestinian territory in 2007.

Israel says the aim of the blockade is to prevent war material entering Gaza and to allow the entry of humanitarian aid.

But pressure has built on Israel to end the blockade since its troops shot and killed nine people on board a Turkish-backed vessel of an aid flotilla on 31 May.

The ships were attempting to break the naval blockade on Gaza by delivering 10,000 tonnes of aid to Gazans.

In a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the blockade was counter-productive and needed to be lifted.

"The suffering of Gaza doesn't make Israel more secure," she said. "This cannot go on, things must change."

Baroness Ashton called for the re-opening of the border crossings and the formulation of a "short agreed list of prohibited goods where Israel has legitimate security concerns".

Aid delivery

On Tuesday, UN officials said that they had won Israel's consent to deliver cargo from three of the aid ships to Gaza.

Israel agreed to release the cargo "on the understanding that it is for the United Nations to determine its appropriate humanitarian use in Gaza", UN special co-ordinator Robert Serry said.

There was no comment from Hamas, which has refused to accept the aid for the past two weeks as a protest against Israel's blockade of the territory.

Following the raid, Egypt opened its border with Gaza allowing people with valid passes to cross.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has described the blockade as a clear violation of international humanitarian law.

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