Israel will resume cement deliveries to the Gaza Strip on Monday, following United Nations assurances that the cement will not be used by Hamas.
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Following a hiatus lasting some six weeks, Israel agreed to resume supplies to the private sector in Gaza after UN special envoy Nickolay Mladenov promised to ensure it doesn’t reach Hamas. One of the preventative steps involves stationing additional Palestinian inspectors on the Gaza side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing.
Mladenov also told Israel that the cement Hamas had stolen from private-sector contractors has been returned to them.
However, Israel warned that if the cement reaches Hamas again, it will stop all cement from entering the Strip – not only for the private sector, as it did last time, but also for international organizations running projects in Gaza. Those projects, which include the construction of schools and hospitals, were unaffected by the last freeze.
In April, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, coordinator of government activities in the territories, suspended cement shipments to Gaza’s private sector. On COGAT’s Arabic-language Facebook page, he said the decision was made because Israel had learned that some of the cement – which was meant to be used to rebuild houses damaged or destroyed in the Hamas-Israel war of 2014 – had been seized by Imad al-Baz, a Hamas official who serves as deputy-director general of Gaza’s Economy Ministry. This, Mordechai wrote, was a “gross violation” of the agreements Israel reached with the international community after the summer 2014 war.
Under those agreements, the cement was to be used only for civilian reconstruction work. Because Hamas has previously used cement primarily to build its network of cross-border attack tunnels, the agreements stipulated that none of the cement would go to Hamas. Nevertheless, the Islamist organization has been actively trying to rebuild its tunnel network in recent months.
“We regret that Hamas is continuing to exploit and harm the entire Palestinian population for the sake of the organization’s personal interests,” COGAT’s April statement added.