GAZA (Reuters) - Israel allowed a shipment of clothes and shoes for Palestinian traders into the Gaza Strip on Sunday for the first time in its almost three-year-old blockade of the Hamas-controlled enclave.
An Israeli military spokesman said clothes and shoes had been allowed into the territory on a regular basis as part of humanitarian aid. But this was the first time that privately imported clothing was allowed in for traders to sell on.
Palestinian officials said the goods arrived in the coastal enclave via Israel’s Kerem Shalom border crossing. Ten trucks of clothing and footwear were expected during the day, they said.
Gaza’s merchants, who imported the goods privately, said Sunday’s shipment was not enough to replenish their stocks and demanded Israel release more goods held at its ports since 2007.
“Some of it even smells bad. I can say half of the merchandise is still good, but the other half is damaged. I fear I may not be able to recoup my outlay,” importer Ziad Barbakh told Reuters while frantically inspecting his clothes shipment.
Merchants said they had to pay 2000 shekels (about 355 pounds) per month for storing their merchandise at the Israeli port of Ashdod for the last three years.
“Now they (Hamas) want to take tax as well,” said shoe trader Eyad El-Ejla.
The Israeli government is under international pressure to relax its blockade, which the United Nations says punishes Gaza’s 1.5 million people over the policy of Islamist Hamas, which is pledged to Israel’s destruction.
Israel bans shipments of cement and steel to Gaza on the grounds that Hamas could use them for military purposes.
Its long list of controlled goods also includes items that critics say have no apparent military value, such as children’s crayons and books.
Gaza has been getting most of its consumer goods via tunnels from neighbouring Egypt operated by smugglers who add on hefty surcharges.
Egypt is building an underground wall to block the tunnels, which have been frequently bombed by Israel since it launched an offensive in the Gaza Strip 14 months ago with the declared aim of curbing cross-border rocket attacks by Palestinian militants.
A senior Egyptian official involved in brokering past truces between Gaza militant groups and Israel said in a statement that the Egyptians had on Sunday stepped up diplomatic pressure on both parties to reduce tensions in the coastal strip.
“Egypt has conducted extensive calls at the highest level with both Israel and the Palestinian factions to contain the escalating tension in the Gaza Strip in order to prevent a deterioration of the situation,” the official said.
Some 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the December 2008-January 2009 Gaza war.
Additional reporting by Marwa Awad in Cairo, Editing by Paul Casciato