Israel renews cement import to Gaza

GMT 11:30 2016 Sunday ,22 May

Arab Today, arab today Israel renews cement import to Gaza

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Jerusalem - XINHUA

Israel said Sunday the transfer of cement to the besieged Gaza Strip was renewed, for the first time since Israel halted the import in April, citing security concerns.

A spokesperson for the office of the Coordinator of the Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) told Xinhua that the approval concerns only cement for the private sector only.

The COGAT freeze the imports a month and a half ago over allegations that an unspecified amount of cement intended for the rebuilding of homes in war-torn Gaza was taken by Hamas, an Islamist organization which controls the Strip.

It blamed Imad al-Baz, deputy director of Hamas's Economic Ministry, of orchestrating the "stealing."

The renewal came following deliberations between Israeli and Palestinian officials and the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nikolay Mladenov.

The parties agreed to increase the number of international inspectors on the Palestinian side of Kerem Shalom, a crossing for goods between Israel and Gaza, and to dismiss al-Baz, according to COGAT.

Israeli officials say the ban on cement was imposed due to concerns Hamas was using the material to build "terror tunnel."

On April 18, Israel uncovered a Hamas tunnel extending from Gaza into Israeli territory and on May 5 a second such tunnel was discovered. Israel said Hamas has built the tunnels to perpetrate and attack on soldiers and civilians near the border.

The freeze on cement imports brought the reconstruction of homes and residential buildings to halt. Cost of cement went skyrocketing, and unemployment rate hit more than 41 percent in the first three months of 2016.

Gaza was badly hit during Israel's military campaign in July-August 2014. Israel pounded the enclave with airstrikes and artillery shells for 51 days, living Gaza in ruins and killing at least 2,251 people, according to the UN.

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