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Israel eases ban on building materials for Gaza
JERUSALEM — Israel has started allowing long-banned building materials into the Gaza Strip, its first key concession to the territory’s Hamas rulers under a cease-fire that ended eight days of intense fighting last month, the military said Monday.
Israel offered an added incentive to the Islamic militant Hamas as well, with the military saying shipments will continue and a 5-year-old blockade of the Palestinian territory may be eased even further if the border remains quiet.
“Now we’re talking about a permanent easing,” said military spokesman Maj. Guy Inbar. He said 20 truckloads a day could enter Gaza depending on demand and other concessions may follow.
“The longer the calm persists, the more we’ll weigh additional easings of restrictions that will benefit the private sector,” he said.
A Hamas official described the quantity sent so far as “cosmetic” and Gaza economists said it would take years of round-the-clock shipments to even make a dent in the gap left by the five years of blockade.
Israel imposed a wide-ranging land and naval embargo on Gaza after the Islamic militant Hamas took over Gaza by force in 2007. Although it eased the land embargo in 2010, building materials such as cement, gravel and metal rods continued to be largely banned because Israel claimed militants could use them to make fortifications and weapons.
There had been limited exceptions. Israel last week authorized the entry of 60 trucks and buses for the first time since Hamas' 2007 Gaza takeover, though there are conflicting reports on whether vehicles have actually gone through.
Gazans also want another major concession from Israel, the lifting of a near-ban on exports from the impoverished territory. Exports, especially to the West Bank, the Palestinian territory on the opposite side of Israel, once formed the backbone of Gaza’s economy. The West Bank and Gaza have separate, rival governments.
The army spokesman said exports might be expanded “depending on the continuation of the calm.”
Critics contend the export ban punishes ordinary Gazans instead of pressuring Hamas, hurting four in five Gaza factories and contributing heavily to an unemployment rate of about one-third of the workforce. Eighty percent of Gaza’s 1.6 million people rely on U.N. handouts.
Hundreds of smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border gave Gazans a conduit for goods — and weapons — while the embargo remained intact.
Israel lifted its restrictions on consumer goods entering Gaza over land after a deadly Israeli naval raid on a blockade-busting flotilla in 2010 drew international attention to the Israeli blockade. But the blockade on construction materials remained in place, save for shipments used to build U.N. schools and a pilot project of shipments to the private sector a year ago.
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