The security cabinet on Wednesday decided to loosen even further the blockade of the Gaza Strip, and allow more exports out of the region.

Increasing exports from Gaza to improve the economic situation there has been a constant demand of numerous countries around the world over the past few months, and the sense in Jerusalem is that the decision will help improve Israel’s position in the world.

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Cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser issued a statement after the security cabinet meeting saying the decision was intended to increase economic activity in the Gaza Strip and “make things easier for the population in Gaza, which is under a terrorist and oppressive Hamas regime.”

The exports, both abroad and to the West Bank, will go through the Kerem Shalom crossing. The exports abroad will be shipped via Ashdod Port.

Government officials said that the decision entails risk, since in the past export containers have been used to carry out terrorist attacks. As such the easing of the restrictions will be gradual to ensure that security is not compromised. In the beginning textile goods, agricultural products and furniture will be exported.

One official said that before Israel stopped exports from Gaza after Hamas took control in 2007, Palestinian Authority officials checked out-bound Gaza trucks before they were checked by Israeli inspectors.

With Hamas now on the other side of the border, the official said, “How do we know that the trucks will not blow up in the face of the inspectors? Are we supposed to trust the same people to check the trucks who are holding Gilad Schalit, conducting a guerrilla war along the border, and shooting missiles on our civilian population?”

The official said that there were technological solutions that were being employed, but that allowing the exports was not as easy as some around the world maintained.

Israel has in recent months allowed the export from Gaza of around 23 tons of strawberries and about 33,000 flowers. These products were selected, according to government officials, because they are relatively easy to check.

The statement issued following the cabinet meeting said that along with attempts to improve the economic situation in Gaza, Israel continues to call on the international community to continue its boycott of the Hamas government and abide by the Quartet principles whereby there will be no engagement with Hamas until it forswears terrorism, recognizes Israel and accepts previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

The statement also called on the international community to take all measures to prevent the arming of Hamas and other terrorist organizations with missiles aimed at Israel’s civilian population.

“A continuation of this armament is against international law, harms the interest of the population that lives in Gaza and will harm Israel’s ability to continue with steps to improve the economic situation in the Gaza Strip,” the statement read.

One government official said that in taking the decision, the government was operating on the principle that Gaza civilians were not Israel’s enemies, and was also “heeding the opinion of our friends in the international community.”

Likewise, he said Israel expected the international community to take seriously the arms buildup in Gaza, and not only make declarative statements against it, but also be more active in stopping it.

Middle East Quartet representative Tony Blair, meanwhile, welcomed the decision, calling it “another important step, which follows its [Israel’s] decision from June of this year to change Israel’s policy towards imports to Gaza.”

Blair said allowing exports was key for the “revitalization of Gaza’s economy and job creation and can be done in accordance with Israel’s security needs. It will help strengthen the legitimate private sector and alleviate some of the hardship faced by local businessmen. There is, of course, still much more to do for the people of Gaza, not least in the area of construction, water and power and we will continue to move forward on these issues.”

B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories also welcomed the move, expressing hope “that the change of policy stems from an understanding that Israel must stop using its control over the crossings with Gaza for collective punishment of its population.”

However, B’Tselem said in a statement that the “true test” of the government’s decision is in its implementation.

“In the past, even while allowing import and export, Israel placed arbitrary restrictions that impaired trade. Israel must take all necessary steps, subject to security restrictions, to allow the free flow of goods,” the statement read.

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