Israel relaxes blockade of Gaza

JERUSALEM – Israel allowed a modest increase in the supply of basic goods to the Gaza Strip on Sunday as part of an agreement on a cease-fire with Hamas that has held since taking effect Thursday.

A total of 78 trucks carrying dairy and meat products, fruit, vegetables and other basic goods unloaded supplies at the Sufa border crossing, up from an average of 60 trucks a day before the truce, said Peter Lerner, spokesman for the department of the Israeli Defense Ministry that deals with the Palestinian areas.

Plans had called for the transfer of 90 truckloads of food supplies, provided by United Nations aid agencies and Israeli commercial suppliers, but some shipments did not arrive, Lerner said

Transfers of grain, corn and other dry goods by conveyorbelt at the Karni cargo crossing were increased Sunday and will be delivered six days a week instead of three, Lerner said.

Other goods such as cement are to be allowed this week, provided the cease-fire holds, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Israel has not said when it might ease restrictions on fuel supplies to Gaza that have crippled transportation, caused power outages and disrupted sewage treatment in the impoverished coastal enclave, home to 1.5 million Palestinians.

Under the terms of the 6-month cease-fire brokered by Egypt, Israel is supposed to gradually ease a blockade tightened after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip a year ago. Lifting the blockade has been a main goal of Hamas and is a key to consolidating its control of the territory.

In September 2007 Israel declared Gaza “hostile territory” in response to continued rocket attacks, and reduced the number of supply trucks to about 100 a day, later also restricting fuel deliveries. The number of trucks was further cut back after Hamas suicide bombers drove three explosives-laden vehicles into the Kerem Shalom border crossing in April, injuring more than a dozen Israeli soldiers.

Since going into effect on Thursday, the truce has halted Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli air strikes and raids across the Gaza border.

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