GAZA CITY: Israel allowed a shipment of clothes and shoes to enter the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip today for the first time in nearly

two years, a Palestinian border official said.

“Israel allowed five trucks of shoes and five trucks of clothes to enter Gaza for the first time since the summer of 2008,” Raid Fatuh, a Palestinian border official in charge of coordinating such shipments, told AFP.

The Jewish state has sealed the territory of 1.5 million people off from all but vital aid since the Islamist movement Hamas seized power in June 2007, tightening sanctions imposed after the 2006 capture of an Israeli soldier.

Large amounts of clothes, appliances and other basic goods are brought in however through smuggling tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egypt border, although prices have gone up, there are no shortages of such goods.

An Israeli military official confirmed the shipment and said it was part of a package of goods approved for UN-run projects in the impoverished territory.

“Everything is coordinated with the UN so we are sure who is getting the clothes,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

The same official had earlier said Israel would allow a rare shipment of cement to enter the territory to be used for a UN wastewater project, without specifying the quantity or the date of the shipment.

He said the decision by Defence Minister Ehud Barak “does not mark a change in policy” towards the Palestinian Hamas movement, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction and blacklisted as a terrorist group by Israel and the West.

“Israel will not allow the

reconstruction of Gaza, which we regard as a terrorist entity

because it is controlled by Hamas and the Israeli soldier

Gilad Shalit is still held captive,” he said.

Shalit was captured by Hamas and two smaller militant groups in a deadly cross-border raid in 2006. The Islamist group has said it will only release him in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

The closures have prevented virtually any reconstruction from taking place following the December 2008 to January 2009 Gaza war, which killed some 1,400 Palestinians and destroyed thousands of houses.

Israel has said any construction materials could be hijacked by Hamas and be used for underground bunkers and makeshift rockets. Critics of the policy have said militant groups get all the cement they need from the tunnels.