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UN offers to monitor Gaza construction material

Aug. 19, 2014 9:25 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 20, 2014 10:31 A.M.)
UNITED NATIONS (AFP) -- The United Nations is ready to check imports of construction material sent to Gaza in order to ease Israel's concerns that supplies could be used to rebuild cross-border tunnels, a UN envoy said Monday.

UN Mideast envoy Robert Serry told the UN Security Council that reconstruction of Gaza remained the main priority once a durable ceasefire is agreed between Palestinian factions and Israel.

"Construction material must be allowed into Gaza to this effect -- aggregate, bar, and cement. And their access to Gaza must be facilitated in such a way that fulfills Israel's security concerns," Serry said.

"The United Nations stands ready to lend its support in this regard."

Negotiations over the reconstruction of Gaza are expected to run into resistance from Israel which has in the past severely curtailed the flow of supplies as part of its blockade.

Israel argues that the material may be diverted by Palestinian militants to build tunnels used to bring weapons into the Gaza Strip and to send fighters into Israel to stage attacks.

Serry said some 16,800 housing units have been destroyed or severely damaged in the fighting that erupted on July 8, with the devastation three times worse than during the last Gaza conflict in 2008-2009.

He voiced hope that UN monitoring could be agreed before a major donors conference announced by Norway takes place in Cairo to raise funds for reconstruction.

The Security Council discussed the situation in Gaza just hours before a five-day truce was set to expire at midnight and Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held talks in Cairo.

Serry said the sides should aim "at the very least" to agree on extending the temporary truce that he said had left almost 2,000 Palestinians dead, more than two-thirds of whom are civilians.

The truce was later extended for another 24 hours.

Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor separately accused the United Nations of bias.

"Have you wondered where the UN gets its casualty figures from? I'll tell you where -- from Hamas!" Prosor told journalists.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric rejected the claim, saying the figures came from the UN Human Rights Commission, which sourced them from various non-governmental organizations.
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