Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday that he was ready to ease some restrictions imposed on the Palestinian territories in a gesture for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
"These measures are linked to the beginning of the celebration of Ramadan, and will allow us to go forward in the right direction," Barak told army radio.
But the Prime Minister did not specify which restrictions would be eased for Ramadan, which began on Monday, and a defense ministry spokesman ruled out an immediate lifting of a two-month-old closure of the territories.
Israel slapped the blockade on the West Bank and Gaza Strip after violence broke out in late September at the al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site in the Islamic world, that lies in occupied east Jerusalem.
The blockade, which bars Palestinians from entering Israel and thereby visiting the mosque, has also cut off vital economic supplies to the territories.
The sanctions have meant that 120,000 Palestinians who work in Israel have been stripped of their livelihoods. The United Nations estimates that some 3.4 million dollars each day is not going into the territories.
In a phone call to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Monday, Israel's Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben Ami said his government was prepared to ease some restrictions, including delivering petrol to the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Palestinian officials confirmed on Monday that some fuel was now being delivered, after supplies were cut on November 16.
A defense ministry spokesman, Shlomo Dror, said cement supplies to Gaza would also resume, and customs procedures for deliveries of humanitarian aid would speed up.
"We have also began accelerating customs procedures to permit humanitarian aid, in the form of medicine, food and clothing from Arab countries, to get to the Palestinian territories faster," Dror told AFP.
Dror said Israel hoped the moves would lessen violence in the territories.
"We hope that these gestures will influence the attitude of Palestinians and contribute towards reducing violence," he said, but ruled out any "immediate" lifting of the blockade -- JERUSALEM (AFP)
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