Israel Increases Flow of Supplies to Gaza as Truce HoldsBy Robert Berger

Israel has begun easing its blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip under a truce agreement reached last week. But further progress could be linked to the fate of a captive Israeli soldier, as we hear from Robert Berger at the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.

Palestinian and Israeli workers unload goods from Israeli trucks at the Sufa crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, 22 Jun 2008Israel is increasing the flow of supplies into Gaza as an Egyptian-mediated truce that began last Thursday holds.

About 90 trucks of food and other supplies were sent across the border on Sunday, up from a daily average of 60 to 70 before the ceasefire. The shipments include milk, fruit and vegetables. Other goods like cement, which has been banned under Israel's crippling blockade of Gaza, are supposed to be allowed in next week.

Israeli spokesman Mark Regev.

"If the quiet is sustainable, and I hope it will be, then in the coming days you will see the gradual easing of the sanctions on the Gaza Strip," said Israeli spokesman Mark Regev.

Israel imposed crippling sanctions on Gaza after the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of the territory in a civil war with the rival and more moderate Fatah faction a year ago. Hamas refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel.

Regev says there will not be open borders until Hamas releases Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, kidnapped from his base near Gaza two years ago.

"Hamas has to know that we will not get anywhere close to normalization on the crossings as long as Gilad Shalit is being held hostage," he said.

Senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar says the Palestinians are ready to discuss new proposals with regard to Shalit.

Al-Zahar told Israel Radio that Hamas would consider changes in the list of 375 Palestinian prisoners it wants Israel to free in exchange for Shalit. Israel has agreed to release only 70. It is refusing to free top militants responsible for deadly suicide bombings.

Meanwhile, Shalit's parents have petitioned Israel's Supreme Court to block the reopening of Gaza border crossings as long as their son remains in captivity. They fear that if Israel eases the blockade, Hamas will have no incentive to release their son.

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