RAMALLAH, October 20 (JMCC) - Speculation is rife that Israel could move to ease its blockade
of the Gaza Strip now that its soldier, Gilad Shalit, has been returned from captivity there.
Hamas leaders say they are hopeful that the blockade, which prevents the movement of most people and key goods in and out of Gaza, would be lifted or eased, reports the Washington Post
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also recently called for an end to the measures, which are behind a stark rise in poverty and unemployment in the Gaza Strip.
Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said in an interview that the blockade featured prominently in negotiations with Israel that led to the release of abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
“They should make an end to the blockade,” said Zahar, a physician who co-founded Hamas.
An Israeli official said Wednesday night that Israel had not agreed to ease the blockade it imposes on the Palestinian enclave, home to more than 1.6 million people, as part of the prisoner swap deal, which was mediated by Egypt.
But Zahar said Hamas leaders would like to see Egypt persuade Israel to ease the restrictions that have isolated the residents of Gaza.
Israel's blockade of Gaza dates from Hamas' rise to power there in 2007. It was expanded after Israel's 22-day war on Gaza
starting December 2008 and then eased last year.
Still, Israel blocks the import of items it says can be used for warfare, including building materials, which has prevented a rebound in the economy and the repair and reconstruction of thousands of homes damaged in the war.
Soldier Gilad Shalit was exchanged Tuesday for over a thousand Palestinian prisoners in a deal that has yet to be completed. He was captured in 2006 by armed men in a cross-border raid and held in Gaza.