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Guide: Gaza under blockade

On 17 June, Israel announced that it would "liberalise" the blockade of the Gaza Strip for civilian goods.

Some details of how this will happen have emerged. The Israeli authorities have moved from a limited list of permitted goods, to a list of specifically prohibited goods and materials that might have military applications.

According to reports, Israeli authorities will allow more civilian goods to enter, including all food items, toys, stationery, kitchen utensils, mattresses and towels. Construction materials for civilian projects will be allowed in under international supervision.

The strip was out under a heightened Israeli blockade since the militant group Hamas seized control in June 2007. Israel wants to weaken Hamas, end rocket attacks from Gaza and get back captured soldier Gilad Shalit.

The blockade has been widely described as "collective punishment" resulting in a humanitarian crisis; UN officials have described the situation as "grim", "deteriorating" and a "medieval siege", but Israel says there are no shortages in Gaza, pointing to the aid it allows in.

OVERVIEW: WHAT GETS IN

For much of the three years since Hamas took control of Gaza, its 1.5m people have relied on less than a quarter of the volume of imported supplies they received in December 2005.

In the wake of the Hamas takeover, Israel said it would allow only basic humanitarian supplies into the Strip. It has a list of dual-use items such as steel pipes and fertiliser which it says could be used to manufacture weapons.

These are not allowed in, with the exception of "special humanitarian cases". Other than that, no specific list of what is and is not allowed in has been published, and items gaining entry vary over time.

The UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees Unrwa's list of household items that have been refused entry at various times includes light bulbs, candles, matches, books, musical instruments, crayons, clothing, shoes, mattresses, sheets, blankets, pasta, tea, coffee, chocolate, nuts, shampoo and conditioner.

GOODS ALLOWED INTO GAZA
Canned meat and tuna, but not canned fruit
Mineral water, but not fruit juice
Sesame paste (tahini) but not jam
Tea and coffee but not chocolate
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Many other items - ranging from cars to fridges to computers - are generally refused entry.

Building materials such as cement, concrete and wood were nearly always refused entry until early 2010, when some glass, wood, cement and aluminium were allowed in.

During the six month truce between Israel and Hamas, which began in June 2008, and in early 2010, the volume and range of goods increased with trucks of shoes and clothes entering Gaza.

Israel says Hamas has diverted aid in the past, and could appropriate building materials for its own use. Aid agencies say they have stringent monitoring systems in place.

FOOD

Aid agencies operating in Gaza say they have largely been able to continue to transport basic supplies such as flour and cooking oil into the territory.

But the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation says 61% of Gazans are "food insecure".

According to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Unrwa, 80% of Gazan households rely on some kind of food aid.

Unrwa provides food aid for 750,000 people, half the population.

Its food distribution has been suspended several times since June 2007 as a result of border closures or fuel shortages.

Israel usually says crossings are closed for security reasons, pointing to occasions when Palestinian militants have attacked the crossings or fired barrages of rockets into Israel.

Unrwa rations provide about two-thirds of dietary needs, and so need to be supplemented by dairy products, meat, fish and fresh fruit and vegetables. Some of these items are grown locally, some allowed in from Israel, and some smuggled in through tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border.

But with the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics estimating unemployment at 38.6% in early 2010, some Gazans cannot afford the basics, even if they are physically available.

Unrwa says the number of Gazan that it helps who are unable to buy basic items such as soap, stationary and safe drinking water has tripled since 2007.

A UN survey in 2008 found more than half Gaza's households had sold their disposable assets and were relying on credit to buy food, three-quarters of Gazans were buying less food than in the past, and almost all were eating less fresh fruit, vegetables and animal protein to save money.

The Israeli military operation in December and January 2009 disrupted food aid transfer and distribution significantly, as well as causing what the UN FAO estimates at $180m of damage to the agricultural sector.

According to the World Health Organization, one third of children under five and women of childbearing age are anaemic.

FUEL AND POWER

In September 2007, the Israeli government declared the Strip a "hostile entity" in response to continued rocket attacks on southern Israel, and said it would start cutting fuel imports.

At times, petrol and diesel shortages have caused major problems. Donkey carts are a common sight in Gaza. Vehicle fuel enters from Egypt through the tunnels.

According to information complied by Oxfam, no petrol or diesel for vehicles has been allowed in from Israel since November 2008, except for fuel for UN cars and five other shipments in three years.

The amount of cooking gas allowed in has generally fluctuated between about a third and a half of requirements, Oxfam figures show.

ELECTRICITY

Gaza's electricity supply is made up of 144MW from Israel, 17MW from Egypt and the rest from an EU-run power plant in Gaza which can generate up to 80MW.

The power plant's fuel is usually brought in through the main fuel entry point, the Nahal Oz crossing. The plant has shut down completely several times after running out of fuel because the crossing was closed. It was out of fuel for most of the Israeli operation in January 2009, leaving two-thirds of Gazans without power at the height of the crisis.

Since early 2008, the power plant has received enough fuel to operate at only about two-thirds of its capacity - in line with an Israeli Supreme Court ruling which set a minimum amount of fuel that Israel must allow into Gaza.

Figures monitored by international agencies show fuel deliveries dropped even below these minimums at several points in the first half of 2008.

In late 2009, the responsibility for funding the fuel was transferred from the EU to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority - since then the amount of fuel supplied has declined. In April and May 2010, fuel supply fluctuated, with the plant able to operate at between 20 and 50% of its capacity.

Power cuts remain frequent. Research by Oxfam in April 2010 showed houses across Gaza without power for 35-60 hours a week.

SEWAGE AND WATER

The blockade has taken its toll on Gaza's water and sewage network. Lack of spare parts has made repairs difficult. Intermittent power supplies have made pumps reliant on generators, which in turn have lacked spare parts and fuel.

The WHO says Operation Cast Lead worsened an already bad situation. Before the operation, it says Gazans had only half the water they needed according to international standards, and 80% of water supplied did not meet WHO drinking standards.

At the height of the January fighting, half of Gaza's population had no access to piped water.

Gaza's sewage treatment body estimates that at least 50m litres of raw or poorly-treated sewage is released into the sea daily.

Some of Gaza's sewage is stored in huge lagoons, one of which burst in 2007 causing at least five deaths.

BUSINESSES

Overall, the UN says the blockade has caused the economy "irreversible damage". Unemployment has soared from 30% in 2007 to 40% in 2008, according to the World Bank, though it dropped slightly in early 2010. The UN says that when aid is discounted, 70% of Gazan families live on less than a dollar a day per person.

The closures have devastated the private sector. Before 2007, up to about 750 trucks of furniture, food products, textiles and agricultural produce left Gaza each month, worth half a million US dollars a day.

Under the blockade, the only exports allowed have been a small number of trucks of strawberries and flowers - although the situation improved slightly in early 2010, with 118 trucks leaving between December 2009 to April 2010.

Even production for local needs has come to a virtual standstill because raw materials are usually refused entry

According to Israeli rights organisation Gisha, small containers of margarine are allowed in for household consumption, but not large buckets, which might be used for industrial food manufacturing.

Some industrial premises have resumed limited production using goods brought in from the tunnels.

Before the blockade, 3,900 industrial premises were operating, employing 35,000 people - by June 2008, only 90 were still functioning, employing only 860, according to the Palestinian Trade Center. The situation improved slightly during the truce.

An estimated total of $140m of damage was done to Gaza businesses during the December and January military operation, according to a Palestinian business body, the Palestinian Private Sector Coordinating Council.

AGRICULTURE

Agriculture is also an important employer, but with exports at almost zero, thousands of tonnes of flowers, fruit and vegetables have been destroyed or sold at a loss on the local market.

Other food production has also been affected - for example, rising fishermen's fuel costs pushed up the price of sardines, and one poultry farmer had to slaughter 165,000 chicks because he did not have the fuel for the incubators to keep them alive.

The UN's FAO says $180m of trees, fields, livestock, greenhouses and nurseries were destroyed during operation Cast Lead. The Palestinian Authority estimates 15% of agricultural land was destroyed.

The FAO says the closed borders are a major obstacle to reconstruction, with fertilizer, livestock, seedlings and agricultural equipment in short supply.

Israel says that in 2010 it has allowed potato seeds, eggs for reproduction, bees and fertiliser that could not be used to manufacture explosives into the Strip.

CONSTRUCTION

Restrictions on construction materials, particularly cement, and spare parts for machinery, have had a big impact on projects ranging from water treatment to grave digging. Reconstruction of buildings and infrastructure destroyed in the 2009 Israeli operations in Gaza has been virtually impossible.

The UN says restrictions on cement have made the reconstruction of 12,000 Palestinian homes damaged or destroyed in Israeli military operations "impossible".

It says it has not been able to build schools to house 15,000 new pupils, necessary because of population growth since the blockade began.

A few hundred tonnes of cement entered Gaza in the first half of 2010, but aid organisations say this is a fraction of the need - Gisha says 70,000 tonnes arrived monthly before the blockade.

Even before operation Cast Lead, all factories making construction materials had shut down (13 making tiles, 30 concrete, 145 marble and 250 making bricks), and the building of roads, water and sanitation infrastructure, medical facilities, schools and housing was on hold.

During the truce, some trucks of cement and gravel began to enter Gaza, but the volume was well below the need, and the flow stopped as the truce fell apart.

MEDICAL CARE

The World Health Organization says the blockade has led to a general "worsening of the health conditions of the population" and "accelerated the degeneration" of the health system.

Israel generally allows medicines into Gaza. The WHO says that shortages of drugs are a problem, with 15-30% of essential drugs out of stock over 2009. But it blames problems in the supply chain, including the rift between Fatah and Hamas.

However it says the blockade is a major factor in the "dire state" of much of Gaza's medical equipment, with delays in approval of machines and spare parts, and engineers denied access to fit them.

The medical system has also struggled with lack of spare parts and, at times, fuel for back-up generators, and lack of building work because of the shortage of materials.

Before Operation Cast Lead, Gaza had only 133 hospital beds per 100,000 population, compared to 583 in Israel, and it lost some of that capacity in the fighting.

Six hospitals suffered damage, including one that had a new building completely destroyed, another lost two whole floors.

Gaza is simply not equipped to treat many severe cases.

According to Israeli figures, 10,544 patients and their companions left the Gaza Strip for medical treatment in Israel in 2009.

But the WHO says that in December 2009, permission for 21% of patients was denied or delayed, and 27 patients in total died during the year while waiting for referrals to Israel.

The Rafah crossing into Egypt has been closed since June 2007, although special medical cases are sporadically allowed to pass through it.

Israel says extensive security screening is necessary, as it says three people with permits to leave for medical reasons have been found to be planning attacks in Israel.

It also says it has offered to facilitate passage through Israel to Jordan for Palestinians it refuses permits to on security grounds.



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