Israel removes last significant ban on Gaza imports

Entry of more building materials to Hamas-run Strip aimed at strengthening economy, not related to peace talks, Israeli source says

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Illustrative photo of trucks at the Kerem Shalom Crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of trucks at the Kerem Shalom Crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

With little fanfare, Israel removed its most significant remaining restriction on the import of building materials into the Gaza Strip, imposed following Hamas’s violent takeover in 2007.

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.

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. The new decision will allow Palestinians to import 70 trucks a day of gravel, metal bars and cement for construction projects.

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. A complete closure of Egypt’s Rafah border crossing with Gaza was maintained for a sixth straight day Tuesday.

The Palestinian minister of civil affairs, Hussein A-Sheikh, told the Palestinian Ma’an news agency 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.

Israel has also increased the number of work permits issued to West Bank residents by 5,000, bringing the number of permits issued recently to 50,000.

In a press release issued Tuesday, Quartet representative Tony Blair praised the Israeli decision, insisting — contrary to the Israeli comments — that it had everything to do with invigorating the peace process.

“I welcome the decision, which reflects our ongoing discussions with the Israelis. This is an important step in building a more positive environment for the diplomatic negotiations and in preparing the ground for the more comprehensive and transformative economic initiative which we have been working on for the past few months,” Blair said.

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