Palestinian radical group believed to be responsible for a series of abductions and attacks has been labeled a foreign terrorist organization by the United States.
Known as the Army of Islam, the group "has been responsible for numerous terrorist acts against the governments of Israel and Egypt, as well as American, British and New Zealander citizens," the State Department said.
"These actions include a number of rocket attacks on Israel, the 2006 kidnapping of two Fox News journalists in Gaza (an American and a New Zealander) and the 2007 kidnapping of a British citizen, journalist Alan Johnston, in Gaza. The group is also responsible for early 2009 attacks on Egyptian civilians in Cairo and Heliopolis, which resulted in casualties and deaths," the State Department said.
While the statement doesn't make reference to the abduction five years ago of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Palestinian security sources have said the group was involved in Shalit's capture, along with Hamas and another entity.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued the designation on Thursday. It is the latest of many such moves against militant groups over the years.
The designation would result in a prohibition against Americans "providing material support or resources" to the group.
It also includes the "freezing of all property and interests in property of the organization that are in the United States, or come within the United States, or the control of U.S. persons.
Israel eased the closure in June 2010. Has that had a positive effect on the lives of ordinary people in Gaza?
The restriction on the movement of people out of Gaza remains unchanged. The current Israeli permit system, combined with rigorous controls, means that only people in need of medical attention who fulfil strict security criteria are allowed to leave either through the Rafah crossing into Egypt or through the Erez crossing into Israel. Very few other people are allowed out of Gaza.
The entry of goods into Gaza is also still highly restricted, not only in terms of quantity but also in terms of the particular items allowed. Long delays are frequent. Some goods that are allowed in are so expensive that their availability hardly matters to the vast majority of the population, who could never afford them. Although there has been media coverage of the export of certain cash crops such as carnations and strawberries, the actual level of exports from the Gaza Strip remains close to zero. Imports of construction supplies and raw materials are still mostly banned, even though they are vital to the territory's infrastructure and economic recovery.
Unless there is political change that results in freedom of movement for Gazans, increased imports of a variety of goods and significant exports, there will be no improvement.
How can the ICRC help mitigate the effects of the closure?
To help families make ends meet, we have developed cash-for-work programmes and launched projects that provide farmers with tools and seedlings to improve crop yields.
We are also doing what we can to make sure that injured and sick people receive proper medical attention by providing support for the emergency services of the Ministry of Health and the Palestine Red Crescent Society. The Society provides pre-hospital emergency care and counselling services alongside the many other humanitarian tasks it performs within the Gaza Strip. The ICRC also provides support for the Artificial Limb and Polio Centre, the only facility of its kind in the Gaza Strip, which treated over a thousand patients in 2010.
Our water and sanitation engineers are focusing their efforts on the treatment of wastewater. At a plant that was recently completed in Rafah, some of the treated wastewater can safely seep into and replenish the aquifer, which remains the only source of clean water in the Gaza Strip. Thanks to the latest upgrades at the plant, treated wastewater could soon be used for agricultural purposes such as irrigating trees.