OPT: Israel blocks shipments bound for Gaza - letter

By Adam Entous

JERUSALEM, June 18 (Reuters) - Israel, the transit point for goods entering the Gaza Strip, has ordered cargo shipments to the Hamas-controlled territory blocked, the Israeli customs authority said in a letter obtained by Reuters on Monday.

Israel wants to isolate Hamas Islamists -- economically, diplomatically and militarily -- in the Gaza Strip, while allowing funds and trade to flow to the Western-backed emergency government set up in the occupied West Bank by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"Given recent developments in the Gaza Strip and the closure of crossings between it and Israel, I hereby inform you that no cargo destined for the strip is to be released until further notice," an Israeli Finance Ministry official in charge of customs told international customs agents in the June 17 letter.

Shlomo Dror, spokesman for Israel's coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said Israel was trying to work through international aid groups to provide assistance to Gaza.

"We are thinking of operating other routes to provide supplies, including from the air," Dror said.

Earlier on Monday, the Israeli company that provides fuel to the Gaza Strip, Dor Alon, said it restored normal supplies, reversing a decision announced on Sunday to provide fuel only to Gaza's power stations.

Hamas seized control of Gaza last week after routing forces loyal to Abbas's secular Fatah faction, prompting the closure of the main crossing points, including the Karni commercial terminal for goods.

Aid groups have warned of dire consequences for Gaza's 1.5 million impoverished residents.

Israel controls the land crossings between Gaza and Israel, as well as Gaza's airspace and territorial waters. Israel does not allow the crossing of people or goods via the sea or air.

Under the Israeli customs order, containers arriving at Israeli ports of entry, including southern Ashdod near Gaza, will not be cleared through Israeli customs, said Majdi Haj Khalil, general manager for the Palestinian Shippers' Council.

Under the order, containers bound for the occupied West Bank will be cleared for entry, he added.

"No one in the international community wants to deepen the current hardship, and ways have to be found to facilitate the flow of foodstuffs and medicines to Gaza," said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev.

Western diplomats and aid groups said Israel was trying to find indirect channels in order to coordinate day-to-day issues with the Hamas administration in Gaza.

Senior Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said he had asked Israel to allow fuel and raw materials to reach the 1.5 million Palestinians living in Gaza, many of them aid-dependent refugees. (Additional reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Dan Williams)


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