WASHINGTON – Just hours after 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.
"We welcome the general principles announced earlier today by the Israeli government," Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman, told reporters.
"They reflect the type of changes we've been discussing with our Israeli friends," he said, adding that US envoy George Mitchell "will continue working on them in the coming days" while he remains in the region.
"As these principles get further developed and implemented we hope the situation in Gaza will improve," he said, hailing as "positive" the Israeli decision.
"We want to see an expansion of the scope and types of goods allowed into Gaza to address the Palestinians' legitimate needs for sustained humanitarian assistance and regular access for reconstruction materials," he said.
He added that Israel's security needs must also be met.
Toner reiterated US calls for the release of Gilad Shalit, who was captured in a Palestinian raid in June 2006 and is being held by the radical Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for UN chief Ban Ki-moon said, “The Secretary-General is encouraged that the Israeli government is reviewing its policy towards Gaza, and he hopes that today’s decision by the Israeli security cabinet is a real step towards meeting needs in Gaza."
'Gaza especially needs construction material'
Martin Nesirky said Ban asked his envoy, Robert Serry, to immediately engage the Israeli government to learn more about the decision and the additional measures and steps of implementation still required.
“The United Nations continues to seek a fundamental change in policy as agreed by the (Mideast) Quartet, so that humanitarian assistance, commercial goods and people are able to flow through functioning open crossings, and so that reconstruction can take place,” the spokesman said.
An Israeli statement, issued after a security cabinet meeting, said "it was agreed to liberalize the system by which civilian goods enter Gaza (and) expand the inflow of materials for civilian projects that are under international supervision."
The decision came in response to heavy criticism of the blockade since Israel sent naval commandos to intercept a pro-Palestinian flotilla sailing to Gaza in late May.
Naval commandos clashed with activists on board one of the ships, killing nine Turks, and drawing widespread condemnations. Both sides have said they acted in self-defense.
Earlier Thursday, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also lauded Israel's decision, but said officials wanted to see how it is carried out.
"The detail is what matters," she said. Israel must "make sure that many, many more goods can get into Gaza to enable people to reconstruct their homes, to build schools, to place infrastructure, and also enable people to get on with ordinary lives."
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."
Reuters, AP and AFP contributed to the report