Israeli Blockade Upheld at Gaza Border

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: While striking public workers continue their protests in the streets at Greek seaports more than 350 pro-Palestinian activists are sending a flotilla of boats to Gaza, in defiance of Israel's trade blockade of the territory. And Palestinians also hope a new Egyptian government will allow goods to pass through its border crossing with Gaza.

Reese Erlich has more from Gaza City.

REESE ERLICH: The fields near Ahmad Shafi's farm are sometimes used by Palestinian militants firing homemade rockets into Israel. As long as such attacks keep up, Israel says it will go on restricting imports and exports into Gaza. Shafi had hoped the recent opening of the border crossing into Egypt here at the Rafah Gate would soften the effects of the Israeli blockade. He was disappointed.

AHMAD SHAFI: Economically, it doesn't mean much, because only people -- not commercial goods -- can cross. Then again, opening Rafah Gate is a big help for Palestinians because it's an opening to the outside world.

But not everyone benefits from that opening. Abu Omar lowers a rope into a 50-foot deep tunnel entrance. He operates a tunnel that used to bring smuggled consumer goods from Egypt to Gaza.

ABU OMAR: We're only smuggling about one to two shipments a month. We used to transport every day. Now people bring their own goods across through the Rafah Gate.

Many things are still scarce in Gaza, such as construction supplies, medical equipment and drugs. Economy Minister Ala Al-Rafati says restrictions make exporting tough, and they can't get raw materials for factories. Unemployment stands at 45 percent. Israel's blockade, he argues, hurts ordinary Gazans more than the Hamas government, which Israel labels a terrorist organization.

ALA AL-RAFATI: Because we can't export, unemployment increases, along with the poverty rate. That makes people suffer.

Israeli officials argue that opening the Egyptian border to normal trade would encourage arms smuggling. So far, they've managed to pressure Egypt's government to prohibit such commerce. It seems likely that trade will be banned at least until a new Egyptian government takes power after elections in September.

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