For first time in six years: Israel allows building materials into Gaza
GAZA CITY (Palestine) - Israel is to allow limited quantities of building materials for use by the private sector into the blockaded Gaza Strip starting from Sunday, a Palestinian official said.
After "efforts exerted by the Palestinian Authority, Israel has agreed for the first time in six years for building materials such as cement, iron and gravel to be brought into Gaza from Sunday" through the Kerem Shalom goods crossing, Raed Fattouh, PA official in charge of Gaza supplies, said Tuesday.
An Israeli official who asked not to be named confirmed the move, telling it was a bid to "strengthen the economy and support (Palestinian president Mahmud) Abbas," who had also requested the Gaza measures.
The quantities allowed in would be 1,600 tonnes of gravel, 800 tonnes of cement and 400 tonnes of iron per day, Fattouh said.
A Hamas government official said it was a positive development, but insufficient.
"It's a positive step, but Gaza needs 6,000 tonnes of gravel, 4,000 of cement and 1,500 of iron per day," deputy economy minister Hatem Oweida said.
Middle East Quartet representative Tony Blair in a statement praised "the Israeli government's decision to approve a series of easing measures for the West Bank and Gaza," but did not specify what those were.
"This is an important step in building a more positive environment for the diplomatic negotiations," Blair said.
Building materials have long been smuggled from Egypt into Gaza through tunnels underneath the border town of Rafah, but the Egyptian army recently destroyed many of those after ousting president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Hamas ally.
Israel first imposed its land, sea and air blockade on Gaza in 2006 after militants there seized an Israeli soldier.
It was further tightened in mid-2007 when the Islamist Hamas movement took control of Gaza.
Israel eased the blockade slightly following an international outcry after Israel's botched raid on a Turkish Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010 to allow food and building materials for internationally-funded projects.
Israel said it feared construction materials could be used by Hamas in their attacks against Israel.
The blockade was further eased after an eight-day confrontation between Israel and Hamas militants in November 2012, following which Israel had allowed 20 trucks of gravel into the Strip a day.