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Middle east

Israel to allow cement into Gaza for first time since offensive

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-07-30

For the first time since its offensive in the Gaza Strip, Israel will allow cement and steel into the Hamas-ruled territory. But Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said Gaza’s crossings will remain closed until Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is freed.

Israel has allowed the transfer of hundreds of tonnes of construction material into the Gaza Strip for the first time since its offensive in the region last December and January, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has confirmed.


Over 310 tonnes of cement and some steel will be transported into the Hamas-ruled territory in the coming weeks and be used mainly to repair Gaza’s biggest floor mill, a power plant and a sewage treatment facility in the north of the territory, all damaged during the offensive.


The decision comes as the US - Israel’s ally - intensifies its pressure on Israel to ease the blockade on the Gaza Strip and to freeze its settlement activity in the West Bank.


Israel has been imposing a blockade on the Gaza Strip since the Islamist Hamas movement seized control of the territory in June 2007 from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. A year earlier, in June 2006, Palestinian militants, including Hamas members, had seized Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a cross-border operation. Israel has vowed to keep Gaza crossings shut until Shalit is freed.


This week alone, three senior US officials met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and pushed for an ease.


However, after his meeting with security advisor James Jones, the third envoy of the week, Netanyahu said the decision to transfer cement was exceptional, motivated by humanitarian needs, and reiterated that the opening of Gaza’s crossings is conditional upon Shalit being freed by Hamas.


Israel had so far refused to transfer construction material to the Gaza Strip, saying it could be stolen and used by Hamas for militant purposes. Many buildings damaged in Israel’s offensive remain in ruins because of the blockade. For the past months Israeli and UN officials have been meeting to coordinate the transfer so the material will not reach Hamas which is listed as a terror group by Israel, the US and Europe.


Other than the green light for the construction material, Israel has recently authorised the monthly transfer of 20 million euros into Gaza to pay the wages of Palestinian Authority and UNRWA employees. It also accepted the transfer of various goods for the holy month of Ramadan, which is due to start on August 20.


Meanwhile, Washington’s intense diplomatic push may have shifted lines in the West Bank. Israel’s Channel 10 reported on Thursday that Netanyahu agreed to freeze a housing project for 900 apartments in Jerusalem’s Pisgat Zeev neighbourhood, located beyond the Green Line which separates Israel from the West Bank.


The report came a day after Netanyahu met with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell who is trying to negotiate a deal on settlement activity with the Israeli PM.

Date created : 2009-07-30