JERUSALEM - Israel took a step Wednesday to try to blunt the uproar caused by its deadly high-seas raid on a blockade-busting flotilla by allowing in potato chips, cookies, spices, and other previously banned food items into the Gaza Strip.
But the things residents of the Palestinian enclave also desperately need - cement, steel, and other materials to rebuild their war-ravaged territory - are still banned, and critics denounced the Israeli move as insignificant.
Instead of easing international criticism of Israel after the May 31 raid that killed nine pro-Palestinian activists, Wednesday's decision appeared to focus even more attention on its three-year-old blockade of impoverished Gaza and the seemingly arbitrary decision-making about which goods are allowed in.
Maxwel Gaylard, the United Nations' senior humanitarian official in the Palestinian territories, said Israel's move was insufficient: "A modest expansion of the restrictive list of goods allowed into Gaza falls well short of what is needed. We need a fundamental change and an opening of crossings for commercial goods."
Israel and Egypt have been enforcing an embargo on Gaza, banning all exports and allowing in only basic humanitarian and consumer items, since the territory was violently overrun by Hamas extremists in 2007.
The blockade has created a flourishing smuggling trade through tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border but has done little to loosen Hamas' hold on power.
Facing growing international criticism over its botched raid and the painful price Gaza's 1.5 million residents are paying for the blockade, Israel has been attempting to show some flexibility.
Palestinian official Raed Fattouh, who coordinates the flow of goods into Gaza with Israel, said soda, juice, jam, spices, shaving cream, potato chips, cookies, and candy were now permitted. He said Israel rebuffed Palestinian requests for construction goods, raw materials for factories, and medical devices.
In the seaside territory, some accused Israel of tossing them a few scraps to score points with the world.
"We don't need jam and chips," Khitam Abdel Hadi, 30, who lives in a refugee camp near Gaza City, told the Los Angeles Times. "We need jobs. We need houses. We need the freedom to move around. This is nothing."
Some Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal policy-making, said their goal in allowing more goods into Gaza was to defuse pressure for an international investigation of the sea raid.
The clashes broke out after Israeli naval commandos boarded one of six ships on the flotilla carrying goods for Gaza, and some of the hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists on board attacked them with pipes and other makeshift weapons.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said his country was committed to ensuring that "the civilian population of Gaza will receive civilian goods," but Israel is concerned that items like cement "if given to Hamas will be used first and foremost for their military machine in creating bunkers and fortifications."
A Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said Israel's gesture was not worth commenting on.
Western diplomats said Wednesday that some European nations had proposed reviving an arrangement on the Gaza-Egypt border that included EU observers monitoring the crossing.
The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because no decision has been made, said the proposal would be discussed at an EU meeting Monday in Luxembourg.