A coalition of 21 international human rights organizations called for end to ‘cruel and illegal’ Gaza blockade, arguing that the partial lifting agreed by Israel has made a limited impact in improving life of Gaza civilians, sources reported on Tuesday. A report by 21 groups published on Tuesday, entitled ‘Dashed Hopes: Continuation of the Gaza Blockade’, revealed that Israel’s ‘easing’ on the import of materials for UNRWA and other international building projects did not change anything in the lives of the civilian population of the Strip.

The coalition of non-government organizations included Oxfam, Amnesty International, Save the Children, Christian Aid, Medical Aid for Palestinians, and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

According to the study, Gazans are still suffering from a shortage of construction materials, a ban on exports, and severe restrictions on movement of civilians, six months ahead of Israel’s loosening of its embargo on the coastal enclave.

The report showed that Israel’s easing measures focus on food and consumer products however with little effect on larger projects. Overall, 11% of the construction materials that entered Gaza before the blockade is now getting in.

The UN plans to build 100 schools and 10,000 housing units, some of which to replace those damaged or destroyed during the Gaza war. To date, it has started implementing only 7% of these projects, and their progress has been obstructed by Israel.

Many of the thousands of homes, schools, clinics and businesses hit in the three-week war in 2008-09 are still unrepaired, nearly two years ahead because of the shortage of building materials.

Around 40% of the 1.5 million impoverished population of Gaza are jobless, and 80% depend on aid. Nevertheless, some businesses are still unable to import raw materials they need. The humanitarian organizations denounced that two-thirds of Gaza’s businesses have closed since the blockade was tightened in June 2007.

Except for strawberries and carnations sent to European markets, exports remain banned. Clothing factories are now allowed to import fabric but cannot export finished items.

With regard to the maintained control on the movement of people, the study indicated the number of permits granted to people to leave Gaza amounts to less than 1% of the number 10 years ago.

Also, no progress has been reportedly made on the ‘buffer zone’ around Gaza’s borders, which takes over 35% of Gaza’s arable land and 85% of maritime fishing waters ‘with devastating impact on the economy and people’s rights and livelihoods … Boundaries of the restricted areas are highly arbitrary and enforced by live fire,’ Six civilians have been killed and 50 injured by Israeli fire in the buffer zone since the easing of the siege six months ago.

Jeremy Hobbs, director of Oxfam, stated: ‘The only real easing has been the easing of pressure on the Israeli authorities to end this cruel and illegal practice…Israel’s failure to live up to its commitments and the lack of international action to lift the blockade are depriving Palestinians in Gaza of access to clean water, electricity, jobs and a peaceful future.’

In expressing deep concerns over Israeli siege on the Gaza strip, which entered its fourth year last June, the aid groups called for renewed international action to unconditionally lift the blockade: ‘There cannot be a just and durable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without an end to the isolation and punishment of people in Gaza,’

The enquiry provoked an angry response from COGAT, the Israeli military body responsible for Gaza, condemning the claims as ‘biased and distorted’. It declared the number of trucks entering the Gaza Strip on a daily basis had increased by 92% since last June, adding that there were security and logistical issues in relation to export of goods and import of construction materials.

Israel agreed to ease the siege on Gaza in response to growing international pressure to ease restrictions, following last May sraeli raid on a flotilla of aid boats trying to breach the blockade, in which nine Turkish activists were killed.
Israel currently allows in import of food and many other consumer items, but there is still a ban on arms or construction materials which, Israel argues, could be used by militants for military purposes across the border.

Israel continues to maintain a complete naval blockade on the Strip.