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Israel allows building material to enter Gaza

Dec. 30, 2012 1:46 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 2, 2013 4:56 P.M.)
By: Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA (Reuters) -- Israel allowed a shipment of gravel for private construction to enter Gaza on Sunday for the first time since Hamas seized control in 2007.

A Palestinian official with knowledge of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that ended eight days of fighting last month between Israel and Gaza militants said the move had been expected as part of the deal.

"This is the first time gravel has been allowed into Gaza for the Palestinian private sector since the blockade," said Raed Fattouh, a Palestinian crossings official overseeing the shipment of 20 truckloads of the material.

Israel tightened its blockade on Gaza after Hamas took power five years ago. But under international pressure, Israel began to ease the restrictions in 2010 and has allowed international aid agencies to import construction material.

The gravel was transferred a day after Egypt allowed building material into Gaza through its Rafah crossing, departing from a six-year ban. It was part of a shipment donated by the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, which has pledged $400 million to finance reconstruction.

Gaza economists say nearly 70 percent of the enclave's commercial needs - including building material and fuel - were being met through shipments via Israel and a network of smuggling tunnels running under the Egyptian border.

One Palestinian official said Israeli counterparts had promised "other building items" would be allowed into Gaza in the coming days.

"Israel has promised to ease the blockade more if the truce continues to hold," said the official, who asked not to be identified.

Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, speaking to reporters in Jerusalem, said more than 300 truckloads of goods have been moving from Israel to the Gaza Strip on a daily basis.

"They can have much more if they would like to," he said.

The United Nations has described Israel's blockade on Gaza as a form of collective punishment, with other rights groups questioning the basis of Israel's security justification for the siege.

In 2012, Israel was forced to release information on a 2008 government study detailing how many calories Palestinians in Gaza would require to avoid malnutrition.

The document said that "in order to maintain the basic fabric of life" in the area, Israel would allow in 106 trucks with food and other essential goods every day. Israeli rights groups say some 400 trucks delivered goods to Gaza before the blockade.

In 2006, Dov Weisglass, an Israeli government adviser, was widely quoted as saying that "the idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger."

Ma'an staff contributed to this report
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