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Israel will allow Gaza to receive more goods

Israel announced Thursday that it will loosen its blockade of the Gaza Strip and allow more goods to enter the territory. The decision followed international pressure to end the siege of the strip after an Israeli raid on a Turkish aid ship left nine activists dead.

Israel's security cabinet, a grouping of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's closest advisers, agreed to "liberalize the system by which civilian goods enter Gaza" and "expand the inflow" of building materials for civilian construction projects under international supervision, said a statement released by Netanyahu's spokesman.

The statement said that Israel would continue "existing security procedures" to prevent the transfer of "weapons and war materiel" to the Gaza Strip.

Goods apparently still will have to be transferred over land, rather than by sea directly to Gaza. Ships carrying aid or material destined for Gaza still would have to stop at Israeli ports for international inspection of the goods, which would then be trucked to the territory.

The May 31 confrontation occurred when aid ships refused to detour to an Israeli port. With a ban remaining on many items, aid flotillas appeared likely to continue to try to breach the Israeli blockade.

In announcing its decision, Israel also called on the international community to work toward the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier being held captive by the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza.

As of Sunday, an Israeli military spokesman said, all food items will be allowed to enter Gaza from Israel. Previously, Israel blocked foods such as vinegar, nutmeg and chocolate and banned industrial-sized containers of foods such as margarine, necessary for food production in Gaza factories.

Many factories were shuttered in the past three years because of the ban, which some say was designed to put pressure on the Palestinian economy and leaders of Hamas, which governs the territory.

Whether Israel would end a ban on packaging, cans, fabrics and additives necessary for food production and sale was not immediately clear Thursday. But the decision suggested that Israel now would block only items that could be used both for civilian and military efforts.

Israel made its decision after consultations with U.S. and European officials, and a week after President Obama -- whose relations with Israel's hard-line government have been rocky -- called the embargo unsustainable and urged that it be scaled back dramatically.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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