Shiment of building supplies to Gaza, October 14, 2014..
(photo credit: COORDINATION OF GOVERNMENT ACTIVITIES IN THE TERRITORIES)
Truckloads of cement and steel to repair damage to private homes from this summer’s war with Hamas rolled into the Gaza Strip Tuesday morning for the first time in a year.
Israel simultaneously announced that produce from Gaza could soon be marketed in Palestinian areas of the West Bank, something that has not occurred in over five-years.
Gaza’s ability to trade with the West Bank is one of the critical factors necessary for its economic recovery.
Cement to rebuild and the ability to market goods to the West Bank and Israel were two of Hamas’s demands in all of its indirect cease-fire negotiations with Israel.
No formal cease fire agreement has been reached between Israel and Hamas since Operation Protective Edge ended in August. But recently the United Nations brokered an agreement with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to create a monitoring mechanism to ensure that building material is not diverted to Hamas for use in rebuilding the tunnels Israel destroyed during the fighting.
That mechanism – which went into operation during UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Gaza on Tuesday – is designed to allow an estimated 60,000 homes that were damaged or destroyed to be rebuilt. The material is earmarked for both the private and public projects, as well as those organized by the international community.
Israel, which controls the sole commercial crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip, at Kerem Shalom, banned most building materials from entering the area in October 2013.
It did so for security reasons after it uncovered a large tunnel through which Hamas had planned to attack Israel.
From then until the start of Protective Edge in July, only a limited quantity of cement, iron and steel earmarked for projects under the auspices of international organizations such as the United Nations was allowed in.
Prior to the summer of 2013, Hamas was able to smuggle building materials into Gaza through tunnels under the border with Egypt. But a year ago, Cairo destroyed those tunnels, leaving Gaza dependent solely on Kerem Shalom.
The Rafah crossing from Egypt, as well as the Israeli crossing at Erez, are primarily used for pedestrian traffic.
Also on Tuesday morning, Israel allowed 15 tons of Gaza produce, primarily dates and sweet potatoes, to be marketed in the West Bank. The Office of the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories said that in the coming weeks larger quantities of produce, as well as fish, would be allowed to leave Gaza for the West Bank.