JERUSALEM, Israel - Following a weekend of back-to-back meetings, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the government's broadly revised policy for the Gaza Strip, which was approved unanimously by the Security Cabinet on Sunday.
The new policy includes a vastly expanded list of goods entering Gaza and other provisions intended to improve daily life for residents of the seacoast enclave.
But Israel's policy "to defend its citizens against terror, rocket fire or any other hostile activities from Gaza" would remain firmly in place and the security blockade would get "tighter," Netanyahu said.
Over the weekend, Israeli officials spoke with government representatives from Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. U.S. envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell met earlier with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo to enlist his support for the revised policy, which in essence benefits residents while maintaining Israel's security blockade.
Click here to read the full statement by the Prime Minister's Office.
The new policy also allows shipment of building materials for schools, infrastructure, clinics and the like to be used under the supervision of U.N. officials in Gaza.
EU Middle East envoy Tony Blair, representing the Quartet (United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia), expressed his full support for the revised policy.
"Three days ago, Israel announced its intention to liberalize its Gaza policy," Blair told reporters following a meeting with Netanyahu. "We now have agreed to its implementation," he said.
"Let me state right at the outset that Israel has the complete right to protect its security and to keep arms out of Gaza," Blair said. "The new policy allows first for a change from the list of permitted items to those not permitted," he said.
Netanyahu, for his part, said the government's position has been evident all along.
"Our government's policy toward Gaza is clear. Israel seeks to keep out of Gaza weapons and war-supporting materiel that Hamas uses to prepare and carry out terror and rocket attacks against Israel and its civilians. All other goods will be allowed into Gaza," Netanyahu said.
"We have taken away from Hamas the ability to blame Israel for harming the civilian population and have received international legitimacy for continuing the security blockade of Hamas," he said.
The new policy further streamlines the entry of Gaza residents needing medical treatment into Israel proper, as well as movement by international aid organizations in and out of the Strip.
In 2009, 10,544 patients and family members from Gaza entered Israel for treatment. Three hundred eighty-two patients were evacuated for emergency treatment in Israeli hospitals.
Regarding renewed attempts to breech the naval blockade of the Gaza port, the prime minister urged "all those wishing to deliver goods to do so through established channels so their cargo can be inspected and transferred via land crossings into Gaza." His statement concluded, "There is no need for unnecessary confrontations and we call on all parties to act responsibly in meeting the needs of the people of Gaza."
Meanwhile, Lebanon's parliament approved a two-vessel flotilla to set sail for the Gaza Strip with a stop in Cyprus. The Naji al-Ali plans to carry 75 passengers, including European parliamentarians and journalists, and the Julia, whose female activists on board named the mission Mariam after the Virgin Mary.
"We are women in order not to give the thieving enemy an excuse to use arms against the ship," Samar Alhaj told Radio al-Shams.
"The entity that was not defeated will be defeated by women who will come on the boat," Alhaj said. "Our weapon is cancer medication" to combat the "chemical bombs" Israel dropped on Gaza, she said.
Alhaj and her husband, jailed four years for his alleged involvement in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, are closely aligned with Hezbollah spiritual leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, who chose Alhaj to lead the mission.
Free Palestine Movement
Yasser Kashlak, the leader of the Lebanese-based Free Palestine Movement funding the flotilla, told Hezbollah's al-Manar television that one day these same vessels would carry "Europe's refuse [the Jews] that came to my homeland back to their homelands."
Kashlak described Israel as a "rabid dog sent to the region to frighten the Arabs."
"Get on the ships we are sending you and go back to your lands. Don't let the moderate Arab leaders delude you. [You] cannot make peace with us. Our children will return to Palestine. You have no reason for co-existence. Even if our leaders will sign a peace agreement, we will not sign," Kashlak said.
The Jerusalem Post contributed to this report.