Israel allowed construction materials for use by private builders to enter the Gaza Strip Sunday for the first time in six years, a Palestinian border official said.
Israel banned the entry of building materials intended for the private sector into the Gaza Strip following the violent takeover of Hamas in June 2007, citing concerns that such materials could be diverted for terrorist purposes. The closure on the Strip was eased significantly in 2010 at the behest of the International Quartet, and in late 2012 Israel began allowing in 20 trucks of gravel a day for private construction projects. The new decision will allow Palestinians to import 70 trucks a day of gravel, metal bars and cement.
Private contractors have had to largely rely on materials smuggled through tunnels from Egypt. But shortages have been reported after Egypt cracked down on those tunnels in recent weeks.
Gaza border official Raed Fattouh said 70 trucks hauling building materials were allowed to cross into Gaza on Sunday, Palestinian Ma’an News Agency reported.
“Israel allowed today for the first time in six years, the entry of 40 trucks filled with gravel, 20 trucks loaded with cement and 10 with steel for the private sector in Gaza,” the PA official said in a statement.
Still, contractors say the amount being allowed in is a fraction of Gaza’s needs.
Smuggling tunnels have been used in recent years as a major commercial artery between the Strip and the Sinai Peninsula. The tunnels were an important source of income for the Hamas government, which levied a tax on all goods entering Gaza.
According to Hamas officials, nearly 130 smuggling tunnels have been shut down by the Egyptian Army in the past few months. The officials added that the damage to Gaza’s economy as a result of the tunnels’ closing is estimated at around a quarter of a billion dollars.
The Egyptian crackdown on Gaza’s smuggling tunnels intensified sharply following the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi, an ally of the Hamas regime in Gaza, on July 3. According to some estimates, up to 90 percent of Gaza’s once-thriving smuggling industry has been destroyed by the Egyptian army.
Last week, an Israeli source told The Times of Israel that 350 trucks carrying building materials will now be allowed to enter the Hamas-controlled territory every week, an increase of 250 truck loads, in a bid “to increase employment and strengthen the private sector in the Gaza Strip.”
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the change in Israeli policy followed talks with the Palestinians “in cooperation with the international community,” and had “no connection” to the peace negotiations underway between the sides.
Since August, Israel sharply increased the number of people and goods allowed to enter and exist the Gaza Strip, as Egypt continued its crackdown on terrorist cells in northern Sinai.
The Palestinian minister of civil affairs, Hussein al-Sheikh, told Ma’an that Israel has also agreed to pump an additional five million cubic meters of drinking water into Gaza annually, and four million cubic meters into the West Bank.
The Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report