Reconstruction materials from Israel enter the Gaza Strip for first time since the summer conflict

Shiment of building supplies to Gaza, October 14, 2014Shiment of building supplies to Gaza, October 14, 2014

The first truck-loads of cement and steel, earmarked for the rebuilding of homes in the Gaza Strip in the wake of Operation Protective Edge, entered the Strip from Israel via the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

Kerem Shlom is the sole commercial crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Several weeks ago, Israel agreed a mechanism with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the United Nations (UN), which would allow building materials to enter Gaza without the fear that they would be appropriated by Hamas to build military infrastructure.

Israel restricted the entry of building materials into Gaza in October 2013 after it uncovered a large tunnel built by Hamas traversing the border which was designed to launch an attack.

Dozens of such tunnels were destroyed by the Israel Defence Force (IDF) during last summer Operation Protective Edge. Gaza imports were also restricted by Egypt, which closed the Rafah border crossing and destroyed hundreds of smuggling tunnels.

Israeli officials said that 600 tons of cement, ten trucks of metal and 50 trucks of additional building material entered Gaza.

The trilateral mechanism recently agreed is designed to facilitate the rebuilding of an estimated 60,000 homes in Gaza. The mechanism went into operation during UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Gaza on Tuesday. The material is earmarked for both the private and public projects, as well as those organized by the international community.

Israel also facilitated the import of 15 tons of Gaza produce into the West Bank, mainly dates and sweet potatoes. Israeli officials said that they plan soon to enable the wider marketing of goods from the Gaza Strip in the West Bank for the first time in five years.

Gaza’s ability to trade with the West Bank is one of the critical factors necessary for its economic recovery.

Earlier this month, Israel relaxed restrictions on Palestinian movement between Gaza and the West Bank, to coincide with the Eid al-Ahda holiday, allowing hundreds to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, and 500 Gazans to visit relatives in the West Bank.

However, a long-term agreement on Gaza between Israel and Palestinian leaders has yet to be concluded. An open-ended ceasefire brokered by Egypt, which ended Operation Protective Edge remains in place. Talks are expected to resume in Cairo over a more permanent solution during the coming weeks.

During his visit to Israel on Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon toured a Hamas infiltration tunnel uncovered by the IDF leading from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha.

Afterward, Ban met with Israeli residents of a kibbutz near the Gaza border that endured heavy rocket fire from Gaza.

The UN chief was in the region following a donors conference in Cairo for the reconstruction of Gaza.