An Israeli worker at a border crossing to the Gaza Strip moves a bag of UN food aid bound for Gaza on Jan. 12, 2009. ((Bernat/Associated Press))

Israel said Thursday it will ease its land blockade of the Gaza Strip to allow more goods into the Hamas-ruled territory.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office released few details but said the government will expand the number of civilian products allowed into the area.

Under the plan, Israel will liberalize "the system by which civilian goods enter Gaza [and] expand the inflow of materials for civilian projects that are under international supervision," an official statement said.

The naval blockade will remain in force, and Israel will "continue existing security procedures to prevent the inflow of weapons and war materiel," the statement said.



"If Israel intends to allow many more goods into Gaza, this terminal could get substantially busier," says the CBC's Nahlah Ayed.

"But today there was no perceptible change in the usual activity at the Kerem Shalom border crossing. This is where most of the goods that enter Gaza from Israel pass through after inspection, where officials said approximately 100 trucks cross on a daily basis.

"Large trucks line up outside the terminal waiting to unload their goods. One by one, they enter a bay cordoned off with large concrete slabs to unload items such as fruit, sugar and kitchenware.

"When that is done, the gate on the Israeli side is closed, while that on the Gaza side is opened. Palestinian workers and trucks drive in to the bay to pick up the goods to take them into the strip.

"The two sides do not interact in person, but we were allowed to remain in the bay and capture the activity on both sides."


"The cabinet will decide in the coming days on additional steps to implement this policy."

The partial lifting of the siege did not satisfy Hamas.

"We want a real lifting of the siege, not window-dressing," said Hamas official Salah Bardawil.

The European Union cautiously welcomed the Israeli decision. The EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said officials wanted to see how the plan is carried out.

"The detail is what matters," she said. Israel must "make sure that many, many more goods can get in to Gaza to enable people to reconstruct their homes, to build schools, to place infrastructure and also enable people to get on with ordinary lives," she said.

In the statement, Israel also called on the international community to work toward the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Hamas.

Israel has faced international criticism after a deadly raid on vessels carrying protesters trying to break the blockade of Gaza and deliver aid.

On May 31, Israeli commandos rappelled from helicopters onto six vessels in the international aid flotilla to prevent them from breaking the blockade, imposed in 2007 after Hamas took control of the territory. Israel says the blockade is necessary to stop weapons reaching Hamas.

Nine men in the flotilla were killed, including eight Turks and a Turkish-American, and dozens were injured in the pre-dawn raid, which occurred in international waters.

Israel said its soldiers opened fire only after they were set upon by a mob of pro-Palestinian activists. The activists and their supporters blamed Israel, saying its commandos began shooting unnecessarily.

With files from The Associated Press