Israel eases ban on Gaza building material

Shipment of gravel for private construction allowed into Palestinian enclave as part of ceasefire deal with Hamas.

    Israel has allowed a shipment of gravel for private construction into the Gaza Strip, easing the blockade it imposed after Hamas seized control of the enclave in 2007, a Palestinian official said.

    Raed Fattouh, familiar with the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that ended eight days of fighting last month between Israel and Gaza fighters, said on Sunday the move had been expected as part of the deal.

    "This is the first time gravel has been allowed into Gaza for the Palestinian private sector since the blockade," Fattouh, who  oversees the shipment of 20 truckloads of the material, said.

    Israel tightened the blockade after Hamas, the Palestinian group that refuses to recognise the Jewish state, took power five years ago, but it began to ease the restrictions in 2010 under international pressure, allowing international aid agencies to import construction material.

    The gravel was transferred a day after Egypt allowed building material into Gaza through its Rafah crossing, departing from a six-year ban.

    It was part of a shipment donated by the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, which has pledged $400m to finance reconstruction.

    That pledge was made by Qatar's emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, when he visited the enclave in October, becoming the first leader to enter the enclave since the blockade was imposed.

    Gaza economists say nearly 70 per cent of the enclave's commercial needs - including building material and fuel - were being met through shipments via Israel and a network of smuggling tunnels running under the Egyptian border.

    One Palestinian official said Israeli counterparts had promised "other building items" would be allowed into Gaza in the coming days.

    "Israel has promised to ease the blockade more if the truce continues to hold," said the official, who asked not to be identified.

    Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, speaking to reporters in Jerusalem, said more than 300 truckloads of goods have been moving from Israel to the Gaza Strip on a daily basis.

    "They can have much more if they would like to," he said. 

    SOURCE: Agencies


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