JERUSALEM — Bowing to worldwide pressure and condemnation, Israel on Sunday formally announced an eased blockade of Gaza that could significantly expand the flow of goods over land into the coastal Palestinian enclave, which the Israelis have increasingly isolated for the past three years.
The announcement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came three weeks after a deadly Israeli naval commando raid that thwarted a breach of the blockade by a flotilla of pro-Palestinian aid activists. It outraged much of the world and became a catalyst for a serious re-examination by Israel of its policy toward Gaza, which is governed by the militant anti-Israeli group Hamas and home to 1.5 million Palestinians.
While Netanyahu did not signal an end to the naval blockade or specify precisely what goods would be allowed, his action earned unusual praise from the Obama administration, which has been especially critical of Israel over the past year. The White House immediately said that President Barack Obama and Netanyahu would meet in Washington on July 6, a rescheduling of a meeting canceled after the flotilla raid, when Netanyahu cut short a trip abroad.
Netanyahu announced the Gaza changes jointly with Tony Blair, the Middle East envoy of the so-called quartet of Middle East peacemakers — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia. Blair said the "practical effect" of Israel's new policy "should change radically the flow of goods and material into Gaza."
Netanyahu said Israel "seeks to keep out of Gaza weapons and war-supporting material that Hamas uses" to attack Israel and its civilians. But it will expand operations at land crossings already operating to enable processing of "a significantly greater volume of goods" and "the expansion of economic activity."