The United Nations has brokered a deal to allow construction material into the Gaza Strip to repair the massive damage that Operation Protective Edge caused, while ensuring that the material is not used for tunnels to attack Israel.
Both the private and public sector are included in the deal with Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, announced the trilateral agreement at the public portion of a Security Council meeting in New York on Tuesday.
“If implemented in good faith, this should enable us to start the so-much-needed recovery and reconstruction in Gaza,” Serry said.
His announcement came just as news broke that a Palestinian projectile fired from the Gaza Strip had landed in Israeli territory near the southern border on Tuesday evening. There were no casualties or damage in the attack, which occurred in the region between Eshkol and Sdot Negev.
It was the first such attack from the Gaza Strip since August 26, when a truce went into effect between Hamas and Israel after 50 days of conflict.
Israel has said it will not tolerate even a “trickle” of small-scale Palestinian shelling – a pledge that, if followed up with military retaliation, could now risk escalation.
Hamas played down the Israeli report and saw no Palestinian challenge to the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire.
“There is no sign a mortar bomb was fired from Gaza, and Palestinian factions are committed to keeping the agreement for calm, and eager to maintain it,” spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said.
Hamas has at times struggled to control small, al-Qaida-aligned groups in Gaza that have operated in defiance of its authority.
Serry’s announcement in New York offered the first ray of hope that a long-term cease-fire agreement could be hammered out in Cairo later this month. Israel halted the flow of building material for private construction last October after the discovery of a major infiltration tunnel into Israel, although it did allow in limited construction material for international projects.
Until the summer of 2013, construction material was also smuggled into Gaza through tunnels under the Egyptian border at Rafah. But Egypt closed all the tunnels, making it virtually impossible for building material to enter Gaza for the past year.
Israel controls the sole commercial crossing into Gaza, at Kerem Shalom. Opening up that and other crossings is now one of the key issues for the Palestinians.
Serry said his office had “brokered a trilateral agreement between Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the UN to enable work at the scale required in the Strip, involving the private sector in Gaza and giving a lead role to the Palestinian Authority in the reconstruction effort, while providing security assurances through UN monitoring that these materials will not be diverted from their entirely civilian purpose.”
Some 18,000 homes were destroyed in this summer’s fighting, Serry said.
The agreement expands the UN’s role in Gaza, which was previously limited to international nonprofit projects.
“It will also mean that the UN has taken upon it a new and expanded responsibility when it comes to the supervision and the monitoring on the reconstruction material,” Serry said.
As part of the reconstruction effort, he said, a donor conference will take place on October 12 in Cairo.
“We are looking to the international community to help fund the reconstruction projects,” he said. He did not provide specific details as to how the monitoring process would work.
The PA should take the lead in the reconstruction effort, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process said, adding that he was concerned the new national consensus government had not assumed its full responsibilities in Gaza. The government is a newly formed coalition of technocrats backed by both Hamas and Fatah.
“The UN stands ready to provide increased technical assistance to the government of national consensus in Gaza,” Serry said.
Both he and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have warned that the post-war period would be a crucial time. Serry declared that it was time to evaluate the underlying reasons for the ongoing conflict and work to prevent another burst of sustained fighting from happening again.
He also expressed hope that the agreement would lead to the lifting of remaining blockades in Gaza, saying the plan served as a source of hope for the people there.
“Maintaining the status quo in the West Bank while addressing Gaza anew would send entirely the wrong signal,” he said.
“I am pleased that Israel has confirmed that an additional 5,000 West Bank Palestinians will receive work permits in Israel. But positive Israeli actions on a range of issues – such as empowering and enabling Palestinian planning and construction in Area C, to say nothing of ceasing Israeli settlement activity – would send a powerful message,” he stated.
“When I warn that Gaza could implode, or explode again, or the two-state paradigm could slip irreversibly away,” he continued, “I do not believe I am crying wolf. This [Security] Council should not underestimate the dangers.”
During a noon briefing at UN headquarters, Ban spoke about the many conflicts raging around the world, including those relating to Islamic State, Ukraine, Ebola and the Middle East crisis.
“In the aftermath of yet another devastating war in Gaza, Israelis and Palestinians seem more polarized than ever,” he warned.Reuters contributed to this report.