Cement shipments ended after Hamas official diverted substantial amount to its military branch, likely used for construction of new attack tunnels into Israel, but resumed this week following new UN agreement to add more int’l monitors in Gaza.
Israel has lifted the ban imposed last month on private imports of cement to the Gaza Strip, with trucks arriving at the Kerem Shalom crossing on Monday morning to resume the supply to the Palestinian enclave.
“In accordance with the security assessment and the understandings reached with the international community, as of today, Sunday May 22, the re-entry of cement into Gaza has been approved,” said a statement from the government body responsible for implementing policies in the Palestinian territories, COGAT.
The ban was imposed in early April, with Israel accusing Imad al-Baz, deputy director of the Hamas economy ministry, of diverting supplies to Hamas’s military branch, likely to be used for its smuggling and attack tunnels.
Supply of cement to international reconstruction projects, however, continued uninterrupted, as it operates on a different mechanism to that of the private sector.
“The exploitation by Hamas is a severe violation of the construction mechanism and the agreement between COGAT, the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations,” said Sunday’s English-language statement, in response to an AFP query.
Al-Baz has denied the allegation, saying that the imports were conducted in line with a UN-brokered Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, aimed at allowing for reconstruction following the devastating destruction of the 2014 Operation Protective Edge.
The renewal came following talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials and the UN special coordinator for the Middle East, Nikolay Mladenov. The two sides agreed to increase the number of international inspectors on the Palestinian side of Kerem Shalom and to dismiss al-Baz, according to COGAT.
Over 1.2 million tons of construction materials have entered Gaza since the mechanism was set up in 2014.
According to an Israeli official, 80 truckloads of cement enter Gaza weekly, each one carrying 40 tons.
Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza since 2006. Palestinian militants in Gaza and the Jewish state have fought three wars since 2008.
In recent months, Israel has uncovered two border-crossing tunnels built after the 2014 that could be used to attack Israel. Hamas officials say any such tunnels would be defensive in nature.
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