Israel halted the import of cement and other building materials into the Gaza Strip for the private sector on Sunday after realizing they had been partially diverted to the Hamas terrorist organization that rules the territory, the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said.
An undisclosed amount of cement, intended for the rebuilding effort of the beleaguered Strip, had been “taken by Imad al-Baz, deputy director of Hamas’s Economic Ministry,” COGAT announced on its al-Munasek — Arabic for “the coordinator” — Facebook page on Friday.
This was in direct contradiction to reconstruction agreements between Israel and the Palestinians and, as a result, COGAT chief Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai “froze the import of the inventory intended for the private sector,” according to the body’s statement.
The information about al-Baz’s actions came to light through the international reconstruction effort in Gaza, COGAT said.
“We are disappointed that Hamas continues to harm and take advantage of the Palestinian population, only to advance the personal interests of the organization,” COGAT wrote on its Arabic-language Facebook page.
The United Nations also condemned the “deviation of materials” in a statement released on Monday, but refrained from naming Hamas as responsible.
“Those who seek to gain through the deviation of materials are stealing from their own people and adding to the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza,” said Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.
“The people of Gaza depend on the entry of construction material to repair and reconstruct their damaged and destroyed houses following the 2014 conflict and to enable much-needed infrastructure and development projects,” Mladenov said, referring to the devastating 50-day war fought between Israel and Hamas in summer 2014.
This freeze is not intended to be enduring, and will only remain in place until the issue can be more thoroughly explored, a COGAT spokesperson told The Times of Israel.
“We are investigating, and will decide how to proceed,” she said.
In the meantime, other goods and materials, including cement for public works, are being brought into the Gaza Strip as usual, the spokesperson said.
One of Israel’s main concerns in the reconstruction effort of the Gaza Strip has long been that materials being brought into the coastal enclave will be employed to create tunnels and other infrastructure that can be used against the Israel Defense Forces in a future conflict with Hamas.