Israel is easing the blockade of Gaza by replacing a list of allowed items with a list of banned goods limited to weapons and materials deemed to have military uses.
Israel's Security Cabinet approved on Sunday the new system, according to which practically all non-military items can enter Gaza freely. For the past three years, Israel has allowed only basic humanitarian supplies in. No new list was released.
Cabinet issued a statement saying Israel would "expand the transfer of construction materials designated for projects that have been approved by the Palestinian Authority, including schools, health institutions, water, sanitation and more – as well as (projects) that are under international supervision and residential construction projects, such as the (project) being initiated by the UN in Khan Younis.
"Israel plans to expedite the approval of such projects while following the standard procedures," the statement read.
Regarding the transfer of goods, it was reported, "The extent of activity at the land crossing active today will be expanded in order to significantly increase the volume of goods that will be transferred through them and in order to expand economic activity."
It was also decided, "In case the need arises for an additional increase in crossing capacity, Israel will open additional land crossings only after its security demands are first met."
Regarding cargo being transferred into the Strip via the sea, it was reported, "Israel will continue to examine goods at Ashdod Port with the utmost possible efficiency."
"Israel will also ease the transfer of people for humanitarian and medical reasons, as well as international aid workers recognized by the Israeli government. As conditions improve, Israel will consider additional measures to make the movement of people within Gaza easier," it was reported.
The government said the purpose of the new regulations was to protect Israeli citizens from "terrorism, rocket attacks and any other hostile activity." It said the goal was "to prevent the entry of weapons and war material into Gaza, while at the same time widening the entry of civilian products into Gaza."
'The world must condemn Hamas'
At the end of the list of easements to be made, the cabinet members leveled criticism at the international community for its treatment for events in Gaza in recent years.
"The current defense regime towards Gaza will remain in place. Israel again emphasizes that, together with the US, the EU, and other countries, it views Hamas as a terrorist organization. The international community must insist with determination that all the conditions towards Hamas of the Mideast Quartet be met. We call upon this group to take action to put an end to the smuggling of weapons ad military-support supplies into the Gaza Strip."
At the end of the document, the cabinet mentioned Israel's captive soldier in the Gaza Strip: "Gilad Shalit has been in Hamas captivity for nearly four years. The international community must join Israel in sharply condemning his captors and must significantly increase efforts for his immediate release."
The White House issued a statement welcoming the Israeli decision to ease the Gaza Strip blockade in keeping with international demands.
The statement expressed the belief that the easing would significantly improve the lives of Gaza Strip residents and prevent weapons smuggling.
It also noted that US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will discuss Israeli policy and other steps that must be taken during their meeting in Washington on July 6.
Netanyahu explained the new procedures to Tony Blair, the former British premier who is the envoy for the "Quartet" of Mideast peacemakers - the US, UN, EU and Russia. In an AP interview, Blair said now, the decision must be implemented.
"This is a very significant step forward," he said. "It also allows Israel to maintain its security."
A Hamas Cabinet minister, Ziad al-Zaza, rejected the Israeli decision, calling it "deception." He told The Associated Press the blockade must be lifted completely "to allow Gaza to import all necessary materials, particularly cement, iron, raw materials for industry and agriculture, as well as import and export between Gaza and the world."
An Israeli raid on a flotilla carrying supplies and pro-Palestinian activists on May 31 has focused attention on the blockade and led to demands to lift or ease it. Israeli commandos killed nine activists.
Last week Israel announced its decision to ease the blockade on Gaza. The United States and the UN praised the measure but called on the Jewish State to further extend the list of goods it allows into the Hamas-ruled territory.
Hamas, for its part, dismissed the new measures as trivial and "media propaganda." Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Islamist group, said, "What is needed is a complete lifting of the blockade. Goods and people must be free to enter and leave. Gaza especially needs construction material, which must be allowed to come in without restrictions."
Yitzhak Benhorin, AP contributed to the report