For the first time since the end of Operation Cast Lead, Israel plans to transfer several hundred tons of cement and other construction materials, including metal pipes, into the Gaza Strip to facilitate reconstruction.

Many of Gaza's buildings were destroyed or damaged during Israel's three-week offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers last winter.

Since the war, Israel has refused to allow construction materials into Gaza, arguing that Hamas could divert iron rods and concrete to build rockets and bunkers.

The transfer of materials is part of the implementation of a United Nations plan devised by UN envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, who has submitted to Israel a list of 10 UN-sponsored construction projects in Gaza.

Amos Gilad, the coordinator of Israeli activity in the Gaza Strip, authorized the UN construction plan several weeks ago. The cement will be transferred for use solely in the approved projects and will not be handed over to Hamas, the rulers of the Gaza Strip.

Among the construction projects are the reconstruction of Gaza's largest flour mill and the refurbishing of a sewage treatment plant.

Both Israel and Egypt have kept Gaza's borders largely closed since the Islamic militant Hamas seized control of the territory by force more than two years ago.

On Tuesday, UN agencies and two dozen international aid groups urged Israel to allow in construction materials to repair war-damaged schools.