Reporters' log: Gaza blockade eased

BBC correspondents report from the region after Israel announces it will ease the land blockade of the Gaza Strip and allow more civilian goods to enter the Palestinian territory.

17:25 JEREMY BOWEN, DAMASCUS

The exiled Hamas leadership here in Damascus was scathing about the Israeli announcement. One very senior figure said it was as if the warders in a prison had improved conditions after a demonstration. Conditions might improve, but the people were still in prison.

It looks as if the easing of the terms of the blockade is not going to make possible anything like normal lives for the people of Gaza. They will still face severe restrictions. But a move that the European Union called a step in the right direction is a sign of the pressure that Israel has been under, not just from its enemies in Hamas, but from its friends too, including the United States.

"When you don't have peace you have to expect war"

Had Israel not killed nine civilian protestors on the Free Gaza flotilla this would not be happening. In a BBC interview here the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told me that the flotilla raid made peace with the current Israeli government impossible. Talks that had been brokered by Turkey are on hold indefinitely. He described the coalition led by Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a pyromaniac government. And while Mr Assad accepted that there is often talk of war in the Middle East, he said that this year it should be taken much more seriously.

Israel has called again for the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Hamas four years ago. Hamas sources here say that the Gaza blockade is for them unconnected with Cpl Shalit's plight. He would be released only when Israel agrees to their list of Palestinian prisoners to be released in exchange. Gilad Shalit's has however been a major domestic reason for Israel's desire to put pressure on Hamas through the blockade. Since it began Israel has insisted that the blockade is a security necessity. Now it has effectively accepted that the strategy isn't working.

Israel has probably done enough to satisfy the US, at least for a while. But other aid convoys are being organised to try to run the naval blockade of Gaza, which is going to continue. They stand a strong chance of keeping Gaza in the headlines, and posing some serious security challenges for the Israeli military.

1230 GMT: JON DONNISON, GAZA

Here in Gaza City, people seem more concerned with the World Cup than with Israel's announcement. The streets are relatively quiet with many tuned into the Argentina-South Korea game provided free on Hamas's television channel.

Gazans are at best cautious with regard to Israel's easing of the blockade. The overwhelming view is, let's wait and see if anything actually changes.

John Ging, head of UN operations in Gaza, echoes those thoughts. He welcomed the Israeli move but said: "It needs to be translated into action."

Many here will be looking to see, not just if more food goods are allowed in, but also whether materials will be allowed in to help private industry, devastated by the blockade, rebuild.

Unemployment runs at 40% and private industry has suffered greatly under the blockade. And, the fact remains that many Gazans feel they are living in a prison, with very few able to leave the territory because of Israel's strict control of the border, which it says is necessary for security.

1100 GMT: WYRE DAVIES, ISRAEL-GAZA BORDER

At Kerem Shalom, the main goods crossing on Israel's southern border with Gaza, a steady stream of trucks carrying foodstuffs and basic medical supplies make their way in.

They slowly trundle down a dusty track before being unloaded in a secure compound, checked by Israeli border staff to make sure there are no weapons or proscribed goods, then loaded again onto Palestinian trucks and sent into Gaza.

This procession of about 500 trucks a week is one reason why Israel says there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The UN and other agencies disagree - they say that at least five times as much traffic needs to pass through Kerem Shalom and other crossings, if this is to represent a genuine change in Israel's policy towards Gaza, and perhaps an acknowledgement that the blockade hasn't worked and has, as some international bodies say, been counter-productive.

Moreover, says the UN, the range of goods being allowed in must increase - not just the milk powder, sugar and nappies that we've seen going in today but hitherto proscribed items like steel, cement and other raw materials to aid Gaza's crippled economy.

0900 GMT: TIM FRANKS, JERUSALEM

The easing of the blockade has been trailed as an extensive shift of Israeli policy. The key now will be just how far and how fast these measures take place.

The fact that it took Israel's security cabinet a second day of deliberations to produce this statement suggests there is still scepticism among some senior ministers about the wisdom of easing the blockade.

Will the system now move to a simple, short blacklist of what the Israelis will not allow in, as opposed to the current, privately held list of what is approved? How quickly will goods be allowed through after inspections?

How fast, in particular, will potentially dual-use items - in other words, construction materials - be waved across the border, for UN building projects?

In the past, senior UN officials have raged in frustration about the length of time it has taken to bring through limited supplies for specific UN projects.

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