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Middle east

1,000 days of the Gaza blockade

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2010-06-05

Israel’s deadly pre-dawn raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla has thrust the embargoed territory of Gaza into the media spotlight. FRANCE24 examines the background and effect of the Israeli blockade, and Gazans' ingenious efforts to circumvent it.

March 7, 2010 marked an unhappy anniversary for Gazans: 1,000 days had elapsed since the start of the Israeli blockade of their troubled territory. On that day, hundreds of Palestinians marched near the Erez crossing on the northern border in protest against their plight.

The comprehensive embargo of Gaza can be traced to January 25, 2006, when the Islamist Hamas group won legislative elections in the 41km-long coastal enclave. Unlike Fatah, the other major Palestinian political camp, Hamas refuses to accept the existence of the Jewish state.

Hamas took full control of Gaza in June 2007 after months of bloody clashes with Fatah. Since then Israel has imposed strict restrictions on the entry of goods and people into the territory, citing what it calls threats to its national security.

In December 2008 Israeli launched a three-week assault on the Gaza Strip in response to unrelenting rocket-fire into Israel, completely devastating Gaza’s already crumbling infrastructure.

According to the UN, only 25 percent of the buildings, roads and critical facilities damaged in the assault have been repaired to date, due in large part to the blockade.

Restricted list, crippled economy

A May 2009 UN report noted that while some 4,000 different objects and food items could be imported into Gaza before 2007, the list had been reduced to 40 items by the time of the report's publication.

Israel allows the passage of items it considers to be "basic humanitarian goods”, prohibiting anything it says could have a dual purpose. Fertilizers and steel pipe, for example, are banned because they could be used to build weapons.

Gazans complain of a severe lack of medicine and medical equipment. In May 2010, the World Health Organization issued a second resolution calling for an immediate end to the blockade.

The agricultural sector has also been razed. Livestock and other animals, as well as materials needed to build barns and irrigation systems, cannot be legally imported into Gaza.

There have been virtually no exports from Gaza since 2007. A May 2010 report from the United Nations Development Programme estimated that 75 percent of agricultural land and 60 per cent of private businesses in Gaza are damaged; it sets unemployment at 40 percent.

The 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza depend completely on humanitarian assistance to survive. But the presence of NGOs has also been restricted.

In early 2010 a consortium of French NGOs decried a decision by the Israeli government to freeze all new work permits in the Palestinian territories, and accused the government of issuing new temporary visas to aid workers in a “completely random manner”.

Israel denies that there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, asserting that 15,000 tonnes of food and medical supplies are daily shipped through its border crossings.

However, the UN says that that amount falls over 45,000 tonnes short of what is really needed.

Underground boom

One flourishing sector in Gaza is the illegal tunnel network on the southern border that connects it to Egypt. While these underground channels were damaged during the 2008 Israeli bombardments, they have largely been re-dug.

Everything passes through the tunnels, from petrol and medicine, to cows and computers, to weapons.

The World Bank and Palestinian economists agree that nearly 80 percent of all goods in the Gaza Strip have arrived through the tunnels, which provide the only gateway in and out of the beleaguered territory.

Date created : 2010-06-02

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