Israel approves transfer of construction material to Gaza for UN project

Security source tells 'Jerusalem Post' goods will be supervised to ensure they do not end up in the 'wrong hands'.

Trucks at the Kerem Shalom Crossing in Gaza 390 (R) (photo credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters)
Trucks at the Kerem Shalom Crossing in Gaza 390 (R)
(photo credit: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa / Reuters)
Israel has approved the transfer of construction material to the Gaza Strip for a limited number of UN projects, as of Tuesday.
The decision came following a request by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon last week, who asked that the material be let in for the construction of UNRWA schools.
The trucks that will head to Gaza on Tuesday, mark the first entry of cement and gravel through the Kerem Shalom Crossing, since October 13.
Israel cancelled the transfer of construction material to the Strip, after discovering a 1.7 km. long attack tunnel, stretching from Khan Younis into Israel, which was built by Hamas, using Israeli cement meant for the Gazan civilian construction industry.
It was the third terrorism tunnel discovered this year.
A security source told The Jerusalem Post that following the request by Ban-Ki Moon, the defense minister ordered Maj.-Gen. Eitan Dangot, Coordinator of government activities in the Territories, to prepare a mechanism for the supervision of the material, and to ensure that it does not end up falling into the wrong hands.
Following of a series of planning meetings, Dangot presented the classified plan to Ya’alon, who approved it, the source said.
The building material, including cement and iron, is intended only for the UN’s projects, the source said.
Last week, Ya’alon revealed that he agreed to Ban-Ki Moon’s request, saying that he agreed on two conditions, “That the UN condemns the use of cement by Hamas for attack tunnels,” and that a UN representative tells Israel how much cement is needed exactly for the project, while committing the organization to ensuring that the concrete does not reach Hamas for terrorist uses.
During his remarks, Ya’alon said, “There is no siege. We’re the only party that cares about the residents of Gaza, apparently, as Egypt blocked the border, and the PA isn’t interested – it has other considerations.”
Israel is the only party that supplies Gaza with most of its electricity and water needs, and allows in goods daily through the Kerem Hashalom crossing, with the exception of cement and dual-use products that can be used to manufacture rockets and missiles, Ya’alon said.
Robert Serry, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said the UN was pushing to build schools, social housing, water and sanitation facilities in Gaza, worth $500 m.
“The UN will continue to preserve the integrity of these works through their uninterrupted and transparent implementation in accordance with agreed procedures,” he said.
A UN source said it had been in the midst of 25 UN construction projects in Gaza when Israel halted the transfer of building material.
The dialogue between the UN and COGAT over the completion of these projects has now been resumed, said the source.
Sari Bashi, the executive director for Legal Center for Freedom and Movement (GISHA), explained that in the second quarter of 2013, Gaza’s construction industry made up for 27 percent of its GDP.
Some 70,000 people in Gaza are dependent on the construction industry for their livelihood, Bashi said.
Israel’s decision to halt building material to the strip in October, coupled with Egypt’s crackdown on the smuggling tunnels by Rafah, hit the construction industry hard, causing a loss of 20,000 jobs, Bashi said.
She said that the situation had been eased somewhat by an Egyptian decision last month to allow 500 truckloads of building material into Gaza for Qatari financed humanitarian projects.
For security reasons Israel had banned building material from heading into Gaza through its crossing in 2007, after Hamas’s violent coup over Fatah in the strip.
Bashi said that in 2010 Israel relaxed its policy slightly to allow cement and gravel into Gaza for international projects.
Only in December 2012, did it begin to allow building material into Gaza for the private sector, she said. From September through October 13, 2013, Israel had allowed 70 truckloads of building material a day into Gaza.