Military


Blockade of Gaza

A 51 km [32-mile] barrier of wire and barbed wire separates the Gaza Strip from Israel. It was built in 1993 and upgraded in 1999, with roads on both sides patrolled by Israeli troops. Since 2007 Israel has enforced a strict blockade of Gaza, seriously impeding persons and goods from entering or leaving. On June 14, 2007, Israel banned the export of all goods from the Gaza Strip and the importation of anything except what the Israeli government labelled as "humanitarian" into Gaza. The blockade resulted in the closure of most of the manufacturing industry, which was deprived of materials and export markets, and led to a surge in unemployment which currently stands at 40%. The Israeli blockade around Gaza, on land and along the coast, was established so that contraband weapons and equipment used for rockets to shell Israel will not enter Gaza. While food stuffs entered Gaza, the shipments are tightly controlled and items such as tomato paste and pasta are sometimes restricted by the Israelis.

Following hostilities in Gaza in January 2009, Israel severely tightened restrictions at crossings into the Gaza Strip. International and Israeli human rights organizations described this action as "collective punishment" of the residents of Gaza, as it restricts access to basic goods and restricts civilians desiring to go abroad temporarily or change their place of residence permanently.

Following its December 2008-January 2009 combat operations in the Gaza Strip, Israel enforced a near-total blockade on the entrance of reconstruction materials to repair damaged homes, schools, and civilian infrastructure. Infrastructure damage amounted to about US$2 billion and would take 3 to 5 years to repair, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. The UN Development Programme is prepared a plan for Gaza reconstruction. Many nations had pledged support, including Saudi Arabia, which had offered US$1 billion toward rebuilding infrastructure, including health facilities.

One challenge is figuring out how to get those building supplies into Gaza. Israel has a long-standing ban on goods entering Gaza that could be used to make bombs - namely pipes and fertilizer. "We're looking to work with the international community to identify the needs on a project-by-project basis so that we know where each piece of piping is going so they can't be taken advantage of to rebuild bunkers and rockets," says Peter Lerner, spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces. "In the past, we were limiting movement of pipes into Gaza because even after being put into the ground they were dug up and used for rockets."

Palestinians cannot rebuild their homes, their schools, or their hospitals because they cannot import the cement needed to complete the projects. They cannot build sewage systems and prevent 55 million metric meters of sewage flow into the Mediterranean because the Israelis limit the amount of construction materials into Gaza.

A tunnel system developed in South Gaza to circumvents the Israeli blockade. Gazans have succeeded in achieving a modest recovery from the destruction they were left to face in 2009. This modest recovery was supported by international actors, but was also made possible by the extensive entry of goods from Egypt via cross-border tunnels. Many people have reportedly been killed while building or working in the tunnels. Yet the demand for goods and the need for people to make a living are so great that this commercial activity continues, a fact commonly acknowledged.This created a new power base based on criminal activity and not the rule of law. The HAMAS has reaped the benefits and is becoming more powerful.

A limited supply of fuel and spare parts to fix and maintain the electrical system were allowed into Gaza, including industrial diesel for Gaza's only power plant and cooking gas. By November 2009 only one-third of needed cooking fuel was entering Gaza. The sewage and water systems were also frequently inoperable due to lack of spare parts and fuel, and ensuing power outages. The IDF prevented demining teams from bringing in explosives to destroy unexploded ordnance into Gaza. In the last quarter of the year, the IDF allowed more materials into Gaza. For example, in late December 2009 the IDF announced that 100 truckloads of window glass would be permitted entry to Gaza for the commercial market. The IDF also allowed cement to be brought in.

The recovery from the war, however, continues to be hampered by the stiff blockade of Gaza that only permits the importation of goods that the Government of Israel judges to be unconditionally humanitarian. As a result, more than one year later, three-quarters of the damage remains unrepaired and unreconstructed, including homes, schools, and hospitals.

On 19 February 2010 US Congressman Brian Baird called for the United States to break the Gaza blockade, provide immediate humanitarian aid, and urged Special Envoy Mitchell to visit Gaza. In the past year he had been to Gaza three times and was the first US Government official to visit Gaza after the Israeli Cast Lead operation. "The blockade should be circumvented by the United States; much like we did when we circumvented the Berlin Blockade. We would accomplish this using roll-on/off ships supplying the needed material for Palestinians to rebuild their society."

Cairo mobilized against the tunnels after jihadi militants killed 16 of its soldiers in the Egyptian Sinai desert in 2012. On February 26, 2013 a Cairo court ruled on Tuesday the government must destroy all tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. In March 2013 Egypt began a campaign against the smuggling tunnels between the volatile Sinai desert and the Gaza Strip. The Egyptian move soon led to a steep hike in petrol and cement prices in the Palestinian territory. The effort included flooding of underground passages. Egypt's military, struggling to fill a security vacuum in the Sinai since Hosni Mubarak was swept from power in early 2011, pledged to shut all tunnels under the Gaza border, saying they are used by militants to smuggle activists and weapons. This dashed the hopes of some Palestinians that Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood from which Hamas was born, would significantly ease Egyptian border restrictions on Gaza. In July 2013, a few weeks of digging, dynamiting and drenching destroyed many of the remaining smuggling tunnels that ran under the Egypt-Gaza border. But longer, deeper and well-hidden tunnels could eventually circumvent the tunnel closures.

Cairo mobilized against the tunnels after jihadi militants killed 16 of its soldiers in the Egyptian Sinai desert in 2012. On February 26, 2013 a Cairo court ruled on Tuesday the government must destroy all tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. In March 2013 Egypt began a campaign against the smuggling tunnels between the volatile Sinai desert and the Gaza Strip. The Egyptian move soon led to a steep hike in petrol and cement prices in the Palestinian territory. The effort included flooding of underground passages. Egypt's military, struggling to fill a security vacuum in the Sinai since Hosni Mubarak was swept from power in early 2011, pledged to shut all tunnels under the Gaza border, saying they are used by militants to smuggle activists and weapons. This dashed the hopes of some Palestinians that Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood from which Hamas was born, would significantly ease Egyptian border restrictions on Gaza. In July 2013, a few weeks of digging, dynamiting and drenching destroyed many of the remaining smuggling tunnels that ran under the Egypt-Gaza border. But longer, deeper and well-hidden tunnels could eventually circumvent the tunnel closures.



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