The head of the United Nations’ Palestinian refugee agency said on Wednesday the fine print of Israel’s pledge to ease its Gaza blockade raised questions about how effective it would prove to be.
Under international pressure over a deadly Israeli raid on a relief aid flotilla bound for Gaza that killed nine Turkish activists, Israel last week announced it would ease the siege on Gaza.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office released few details about the possible changes in its three-year-old blockade, and it was not clear whether any firm decisions had been made.
But, the announcement did not specify how procedures for the import of commercial goods would change or list any specific products, saying only that cabinet ministers would decide in the coming days how to implement the new policy.
The siege has prevented Gaza from rebuilding after Israel’s deadly assault in the territory last year.
There was no mention in the statement of any change in other damaging aspects of the blockade, like bans on exports or allowing in raw materials used in industrial production.
Filippo Grandi, commissioner-general of the refugee agency known as UNRWA, called the blockade “absurd, counterproductive and illegal” and cited elements in Israel’s easing plan that left unclear how it would be fully implemented.
“They’re talking about items that will be allowed for certain times and not other times, depending on who the consignee is. So it’s still very complicated,” he told reporters in Beirut. “We have seen some broad statements of how they will do it but the devil is in the detail. We have to see how this will be done and we haven’t seen it yet.
“We’ve seen many times declarations and statements,” Grandi added. “But now we want to see facts … Believe me, it’s very urgent, because the conditions are very bad on the ground.”
Human rights groups and other critics slam the siege as collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians.
Grandi called for Gaza’s land crossings to be opened.
UNRWA has said Israel must reopen the Karni cargo terminal on Gaza’s northeast boundary that is large enough to allow industrial-scale shipments of cement, building materials and aid. Instead, trucks are now routed to a narrower crossing.
Israel’s naval blockade will also remain in force.