Israel’s decision to ease its blockade of Gaza has drawn criticism from Palestinians who say it does not go far enough and Israelis who fear it will strengthen the territory’s Hamas rulers.
Western governments, however, including the US, have hailed the move as a step in the right direction.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has held sway in the West Bank only since Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007, insisted Israel must completely lift the four-year-old blockade.
“President Abbas demands the complete lifting of the siege on Gaza,” his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said.
“These steps alone are not sufficient, and all efforts must be exerted to ease the suffering of the people of Gaza,” he said.
Gaza’s Islamist rulers also dismissed Israel’s decision and called for “the complete and genuine lifting of all forms of the blockade.”
“We want all of Gaza’s needs to be met, including electricity and fuel and the lifting of all banking restrictions and this is what is not included in the Israeli decision, which means the siege is still in place,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
Israel announced on Sunday that it would allow the import of strictly “civilian” goods, but will restrict “problematic dual-use” items — thought to include construction materials which can be used to build rockets and bunkers. Israel did not mention allowing exports out of Gaza.
The new policy follows mounting international pressure in the wake of a May 31 Israeli commando raid that killed nine Turkish activists aboard a flotilla of aid ships on a blockade-busting bid.
Israeli deputy defense minister Matan Vilnai made it clear he opposed any easing of the blockade.
“There is no doubt that the decision to allow the entry of more goods into the Gaza Strip will indirectly help Hamas strengthen its power,” Vilnai said.
Israeli environmental protection minister Gilad Erdan, on the other hand, insisted the blockade had not achieved the desired effect of weakening Hamas.
“The blockade caused damage to us: It did not enable us to weaken the Hamas power or to speed up the release of Gilad Shalit,” Erdan, who is close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said.
Several western governments responded favorably to Sunday’s announcement while making it clear more was needed.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called it “a significant improvement” and the White House said it “should improve life for the people of Gaza.”
Sunday’s announcement came ahead of a planned July 6 meeting in Washington between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama, who has called the humanitarian situation in Gaza “unsustainable.”
Until now, Israel has allowed humanitarian supplies and some commercial goods into Gaza, where the majority of the 1.5 million population relies on foreign food aid.