Israel has decided to loosen its land blockade of the Gaza strip but the measure may fall short of international expectations raised following the Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla on May 31.

“It was agreed to liberalise the system by which civilian goods enter Gaza [and] to expand the inflow of materials for civilian projects that are under international supervision,” said an official statement following the Israeli Security Cabinet meeting which began on Wednesday. The statement did not list the products which can now be sent into Gaza.

Israel had imposed the blockade in 2006, soon after Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections. The embargo was reinforced following the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas which ended in January 2009.

Observers say Israel has now cleared the path for sending building materials to international organisations, such as the United Nations, whose establishments had suffered damage during the Gaza war.

However, the statement clarified that the “existing security procedures to prevent the inflow of weapons and war material” would continue.

Besides, the Security Cabinet made no mention about lifting the sea blockade on the impoverished coastal strip.

In its response, Hamas said it rejected the Israeli announcement. “We in Hamas reject the Zionist decision, which is an attempt to obscure the international decision to completely lift the siege on the Gaza Strip,” AFP quoted senior Hamas leader Ismail Radwan as saying.

“This is just an attempt to relieve the pressure ... and to continue the siege of Gaza,” he added.

“We demand the complete lifting of the Gaza siege so that all goods are allowed in and there is total freedom of movement without any interference from the Zionist enemy,” he said.

On Monday, the European Union reiterated its call for an “immediate, sustained and unconditional opening of crossings for the flow of humanitarian aid, commercial goods and persons to and from Gaza including goods from the West Bank”.

International pressure against Israel to lift the blockade has been mounting since the May 31 raid in international waters on the Turkish ship, Mavi Marmara. Nine persons, comprising eight Turks and one Turkish-origin American citizen died during that attack. Analysts say that Israel is now making an effort to link the lifting of the blockade with the release of Gilad Shalit, the captured Israeli soldier by a Hamas offshoot, an end to rocket firing from Gaza into Israel, and termination of weapon smuggling into the coastal strip.

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