'Gaza blockade unaffected by Schalit agreement'

Officials say blockade in place to stop smuggling and manufacturing of arms, not related to Hamas' captivity of Gilad Schalit.

Gaza Truck 311 (photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)
Gaza Truck 311
(photo credit: Yaakov Lappin)
Israel has no intention of easing its blockade of the Gaza Strip because of the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit, government officials said Sunday.
The officials said the blockade was in place primarily to stop the smuggling and local manufacturing of arms, and was not necessarily related to Hamas’s holding of Schalit for over five years.
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One government official said the issue of the blockade was not raised at the cabinet meeting when the government approved the deal for Schalit last week.
Egyptian officials told the London-based pan-Arabic Al- Hayat newspaper over the weekend that Israel was expected to ease its blockade as a result of the Schalit deal, but only if Hamas agreed to stationing Palestinian Authority security officials at cross-border checkpoints, and a return of EU border observers.
Benoit Cuisin, a spokesman for the EU Border Assistance Mission for the Rafah Crossing (EUBAM) which manned the Rafah border periodically in 2006 and the first half of 2007, said the force has not been contacted about the possibility of returning to the Gaza crossing.
“As a third-party mission, EUBAM Rafah has to be invited by the parties – Israel and the Palestinian Authority – in order to be reactivated,” he said. “So far none of the stakeholders has formally requested the EU to reactivate the mission, even though EUBAM Rafah has a redeployment plan to increase rapidly the strength of the mission if conditions allow it.”
EUBAM stopped its operations in June 2007, just days before Hamas took control of the region. Israel and Egypt sealed the border crossing with Gaza shortly thereafter.
“Hamas is the same Hamas – they haven’t changed in any way – and the restrictions on the area are in place because they continue to fire missiles on us,” one government official said when asked if Israel would review its blockade policy in light of the Schalit deal.
The official acknowledged that while Schalit was often cited as one of the reasons for the blockade, the main reason was to curtail the arms smuggling and manufacturing and place pressure on Hamas to end its rocket attacks on Israel.
In June 2010, after the Mavi Marmara incident and mounting international pressure, Israel eased the overland restrictions on goods going into Gaza, allowing in civilian goods, but preventing “dual-use” items that could be used to manufacture arms.
The sea blockade still remains in place, and there continue to be strict restrictions on Gaza exports, as well as on the movement of people in and out of the region.
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