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UN Refugee Commissioner: Crisis in Gaza Bigger Than Humanitarian

The commissioner-general of the U.N. refugee agency says the crisis in the Gaza Strip is more than just a humanitarian situation.

Filipo Grandi said Wednesday in Lebanon that Gazans need to be able to import and export goods to boost the economy and give the people there a "normal life." Grandi reiterated the U.N. position on the situation, which calls for Israel to lift the Gaza blockade.

Israel has eased its land blockade of Gaza in response to international outrage triggered by its deadly commando raid on a flotilla of ships carrying aid to Gaza three weeks ago.

But Israel says the sea blockade will remain in force to prevent Hamas militants and supporters from smuggling weapons into Gaza.

Israel, the U.S. and some members of the international community consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

Two ships are planning to challenge the sea blockade. The aid ship Julia plans to leave for Gaza from Lebanon within days, despite warnings from Israel that it will not let ships dock in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory.

A second, all-female ship, Mariam, named after the Virgin Mary, also is planning to make the voyage to Gaza, transporting some 50 women activists, including four U.S. nuns, as well as cancer medication and other humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, the parents of an Israeli soldier being held captive by the Palestinian militant group Hamas say they fear that Israel's easing of the blockade will make it harder to negotiate their son's release.

Gilad Schalit's parents argued this week that the blockade is an important tool to pressure Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Hundreds of trucks carrying food and other supplies that had previously been blocked began rolling into the territory Tuesday.

Schalit was abducted four years ago this Friday. His parents and thousands of supporters are planning a days-long cross-country march next week to push the government to do more for their son.

Schalit's father says he will camp outside the prime minister's residence after the march until his son is brought home.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.