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Middle East

Volume 498: debated on Monday 2 November 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent reports he has received on the policy of the Israeli government on the (a) volume and (b) type of goods entering Gaza from (i) Israel and (ii) Egypt; and if he will make a statement. (296624)

Some basic humanitarian assistance has been entering Gaza through the crossings from Israel, but the overall flow of goods into Gaza remains severely limited. Israel has not provided clarity on what types or volumes of goods it will and will not permit to enter Gaza. The flow of goods and materials falls far short of addressing basic human needs of Gaza’s estimated 1.5 million people and prevents all but token efforts towards reconstruction. On average, the government of Israel allows the transfer of just 60 per cent. of the industrial fuel required per week to operate Gaza’s only power plant at the current maximum capacity of 80 megawatts. The number of trucks carrying humanitarian and commercial goods is routinely restricted to approximately a third of the weekly average before restrictions were tightened. The import of building materials and agricultural inputs is heavily curtailed.

The Rafah crossing from Egypt is primarily a pedestrian crossing and is often closed. Restrictions imposed by the government of Israel also affect goods passing formally from Egypt, which are channelled via Israel through the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Large quantities of a wide variety of items continue to enter Gaza from Egypt via tunnels. Given the illicit nature of the trade, it is hard to quantify the trade. Reports from Gaza suggest that a wide variety of goods which cannot be imported any other way are entering through the tunnels, and are then available on the open market. Arms are undoubtedly part of this trade. According to a recent UN report, approximately 100,000 litres of diesel and 100,000 litres of petrol are transferred into Gaza via the tunnels each day.

We will continue to urge action to press the Israeli authorities to ease border restrictions into Gaza and allow the passage of essential humanitarian aid and reconstruction material. The Prime Minister stressed this point most recently in his joint letter, on 16 October 2009, with President Sarkozy to Prime Minister Netanyahu.