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Page last updated at 16:29 GMT, Thursday, 4 December 2008

Israel eases Gaza Strip blockade

Palestinians in Gaza
Little aid has reached Gaza in recent weeks

Israel has allowed some humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, easing its blockade of the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory.

Forty truckloads of food and medicines entered the strip, and fuel supplies were pumped to Gaza's only power plant, according to Palestinian officials.

Foreign journalists are also being allowed through, Israel said.

Israel recently tightened its economic blockade of Gaza amid regular border clashes with Palestinian militants.

The opening of these crossings is a positive step although it will have little impact
UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs

The office of the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, said the decision to allow some aid into Gaza was a goodwill gesture ahead of the forthcoming Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

Restrictions on travel to and from Gaza have also been eased on international aid workers, and on Palestinians requiring medical treatment.

The easing of the blockade will be reviewed on a daily basis and will be subject to Palestinian militants halting their rocket fire against southern Israel, said defence ministry spokesman, Peter Lerner.

"The opening of these crossings is a positive step although it will have little impact unless they remain open on a regular daily basis," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

"Equally important, in order to prevent a further deterioration of the situation, the list of imports into Gaza must immediately be expanded to include vital spare parts for maintenance and operation of the power plant, water and sanitation utilities and other critical infrastructure and basic services for the civilian population," OCHA said.

Bank crisis

Meanwhile banks across the Gaza Strip have been shutting down because of what they say is a cash shortage caused by the Israeli blockade.

The Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, has urged Israel to allow a cash shipment to Gaza.

He said thousands of civil servants would not be paid this month unless it does so. Israel said the request was being considered.

Hundreds of thousands of people in the territory depend on the salaries earned by public sector workers.

A ceasefire agreed in July between the Israeli army and militants in Gaza came under threat four weeks ago as clashes became more frequent.

Gaza map

That prompted the tightening of the Israeli blockade, imposed after the Islamist Hamas movement took control of Gaza in June 2007.

The blockade has meant that in recent weeks the territory has been closed to virtually all supplies, and Palestinians inside the territory have had to deal with food shortages, lengthy power cuts and no cooking gas.

The situation has led the UN to describe conditions there as the "worst ever".

Earlier this week, a Libyan cargo ship carrying humanitarian supplies turned back before reaching Gaza.

Palestinian officials said the vessel was intercepted by the Israeli navy. Israeli officials denied there had been a confrontation.

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