By Nidal Al Mughrabi
GAZA, May 23 – Israel resumed cement shipments to the Gaza Strip on Monday, ending a 45-day-old ban it imposed after it accused the Palestinian enclave’s Hamas rulers of seizing some of the stock meant for rebuilding homes destroyed in a 2014 war.
Hamas has denied Israeli charges that it siphons off cement imports to fortify attack tunnels.
Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, welcomed the resumption of the shipments, saying in a statement that “all sides need to ensure that cement deliveries reach their intended beneficiaries and are used solely for civilian purposes.”
The first of some 90 truckloads of cement entered the Gaza Strip through an Israeli-controlled border crossing on Monday and Palestinian officials said they expected some 4,000 tonnes of the material would be brought in by the end of the day.
“But this can be reversed if we see another (Hamas) violation,” an Israeli official told Reuters.
The United Nations said 140,000 houses were partially or completely damaged during the 2014 war between Israel and the Hamas-led Gaza militants. Palestinians said 2,100 people, mostly civilians, were killed and 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians were also killed.
Adnan Abu Hasna, media adviser for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, said 1,000 houses were currently under reconstruction and 70,000 other homes with minor damage have been repaired. Another 1,000 houses were completely rebuilt by Qatar.
U.N. officials and international visitors to the region in past weeks have urged Israel to speed up the entry of construction material into Gaza to speed up the rebuilding process.