Israel has allowed construction materials to enter the Gaza Strip as part of the ceasefire agreement with Hamas, following the eight-day war in November, and has promised further concessions if quiet is maintained.
Following the truce, which ended the exchange of fire in November, Egypt mediated between the two sides, which refuse to talk directly.
Israel promised to ease the blockade it imposed in 2007 when Hamas came to power, as long as militants ceased firing rockets into southern Israel. Under the new arrangements, 20 lorries a day carrying gravel and other building materials will cross into Gaza, five days a week.
Israeli military spokesman Maj Guy Inbar confirmed the new arrangements were permanent.
“The longer the calm persists, the more we’ll weigh additional easing of restrictions that will benefit the private sector.”
Hamas played down the move, calling it inadequate. Gaza economists said it would take years to make a dent in the gap left by the 5½-year blockade. A Palestinian official in charge of the crossing point for the goods between Gaza and Israel, Raed Ghalban, said the latest measure was insufficient.
“It’s not even enough for the needs of the private sector. This is a very small amount and it is not enough. Some kinds of building materials are also still banned, such as iron and cement.”
Gaza’s leaders demanded Israel lift the near-total ban on exports from the impoverished territory, with restoration of exports to the West Bank a priority. Despite the latest measures, Israel’s naval blockade remains in place and Israel also controls Gaza’s air space, which it says is necessary for Israel’s security.
Human rights groups claim the blockade is tantamount to collective punishment against Palestinian civilians and was a key factor behind the widespread unemployment and poverty in Gaza, where about 80 per cent of the population rely on United Nations relief.
Parallel to the Israeli measures, Egypt has also eased its restrictions, allowing the transfer of 1,400 tonnes of gravel via its Rafah crossing. Rafah is the only Gaza crossing not controlled by Israel, which withdrew settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005. Until now, Cairo has restricted the use of Rafah to travellers and medical relief.
Israel has always allowed humanitarian aid into Gaza and allowed a variety of other products from 2010, following international criticism after a naval commando raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla. Nine Turkish activists were killed in clashes with Israeli forces on the flagship MV Mavi Marmara.