Cement Trucks Roll Into Gaza With Israel Assured Hamas Sidelined

Trucks carrying cement, gravel and iron crossed Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip following assurances the materials for rebuilding the war-battered territory won’t be diverted by Hamas.

Israeli guards admitted 75 trucks today at the Kerem Shalom terminal, the first bound for private contractors since convoys were cut off in December, Palestinian Authority liaison officer Raed Fattouh said in an e-mail. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed the convoy in a visit to Gaza, after international donors meeting this week in Cairo pledged $5.4 billion for the reconstruction project.

“The destruction which I have seen while coming to here is beyond description,” Ban told reporters in Gaza.

The 50-day war in July and August laid waste to neighborhoods across the 40-kilometer-long (25-mile) seaside enclave with at least 20,000 structures destroyed or severely damaged, according to the Palestinian Authority. Hamas and other militant groups fired thousands of rockets and mortar shells at Israel. More than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis died in the conflict.

Israel agreed to admit the trucks on condition that Hamas not be allowed any access to the construction materials. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union. It has used cement imported for rebuilding homes destroyed in previous conflicts, to reinforce cross-border tunnels for staging attacks in Israel.

Power Sharing

Hamas has agreed to share power in Gaza with Fatah, the rival Palestinian party it ousted from the territory in 2007 after bloody battles. Fatah, headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, negotiated an agreement with Hamas in June to form a consensus government and hold the first general elections since 2006. Hamas’s acceptance that the Palestinian Authority would man the border posts and solely handle the building supplies was key to Israel admitting the trucks.

“The mechanism is designed so that the construction materials will be used to renovate homes and public buildings for the benefit of Gaza residents while safeguarding the security of the state of Israel,” Israeli Major-General Yoav Mordechai, coordinator of government activities for Gaza and the West Bank, said in an e-mailed statement.

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