Middle East

Gaza receives first car shipment from Israel since 2007

Cars wait to enter the Gaza Strip from southern Israel's Erez crossing, 20 September
Image caption Israel co-ordinates all imports into Gaza with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank

Israel has allowed about 20 cars into Gaza, in the first such shipment since the militant Hamas movement took over the Strip in 2007.

No cars have been legally imported into the territory since Israel tightened its economic blockade soon after that.

Cars have been smuggled through tunnels from Egypt since then.

In recent months, Israel has eased the blockade of Gaza but exports are still banned and most people are not allowed to leave the territory.

Although Gaza's economy grew 16% in the first half of 2010, the IMF said the growth followed years of sanctions that had all but devastated the economy.

Four out of five of the territory's 1.5 million residents rely on foreign aid and unemployment remains at 37%, one of the highest rates in the world.

With so much poverty and unemployment, few people can afford a new car, says the BBC's Jon Donnison in Gaza.

Repeated delays

The 20 cars - both new and used - were transported into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom border crossing - which the Palestinians call Kerem Abu Salem - on Monday afternoon.

Earlier, there had been "several problems" in co-ordinating the delayed shipment with the Western-backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Maj Guy Inbar of the Israeli military's Gaza liaison office told the AFP news agency, without providing further details.

Since Hamas took over in Gaza, all imports are organised with the Palestinian Authority.

The delivery was also held up by near-daily rocket and mortar attacks last week, he added.

Israel and neighbouring Egypt shut down Gaza's border crossings when an Israeli soldier was captured in June 2006, and tightened it further when Hamas took control of Gaza, driving the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas out of the strip, a year later.

Hamas had won parliamentary elections in Gaza and the West Bank earlier in 2006.

Israel began allowing consumer goods into Gaza after its May raid on a Turkish aid ship sparked international outrage. Nine activists were killed when Israeli commandos intercepted the ship in international waters.

But it still blocks all exports from the territory, imposes a complete naval blockade, and severely restricts the movement of people.

The Israeli authorities also limit the amount of construction and raw materials allowed into Gaza, leading to the closure of hundreds of businesses and factories - some of which were destroyed during Israel's 22-day military offensive, which ended in January 2009.

According to the United Nations, the Israeli military campaign left more than 50,000 homes, 800 industrial properties and 200 schools damaged or destroyed.

Israel says the restrictions are necessary to pressure militants to stop firing rockets from the territory.

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