Middle East Eye reports:
Israel said late on Sunday it was lifting a ban imposed last month on private imports of cement to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.In April, the UN implied that Hamas indeed was diverting cement:
More than 1.2 million tonnes of construction materials have entered Gaza since the mechanism was set up in 2014, much of it for war reconstruction. According to an Israeli official, 80 truckloads of cement enter Gaza weekly, each carrying 40 tonnes.
The ban was imposed in early April, with Israel accusing Imad al-Baz, deputy director of the Hamas economy ministry, of diverting supplies.
"In accordance with the security assessment and the understandings reached with the international community, as of today Sunday May 22 the re-entry of cement into Gaza has been approved," said a statement from the government body responsible for implementing policies in the Palestinian territories, COGAT.
"The exploitation by Hamas is a severe violation of the construction mechanism and the agreement between COGAT, the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations," said Sunday's English-language statement, in response to an AFP query.
Al-Baz has denied the allegation, saying that the imports were conducted in line with a UN-brokered Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, aimed at allowing for reconstruction after a devastating 2014 war with Israel.
Deliberations between Israeli and UN officials, including Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, yielded an agreement to allow cement to be imported anew. Stipulations included al-Baz’s dismissal and an increase in the number of Palestinian inspectors on the Gaza side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing, according to the sources.Haaretz says that this admission has of Hamas stealing cement has become a little more explicit:
The information about al-Baz’s actions came to light via international actors taking part in the reconstruction effort in Gaza, COGAT said in April.
“We are disappointed that Hamas continues to harm and take advantage of the Palestinian population, only to advance the personal interests of the organization,” COGAT wrote on its Arabic-language Facebook page.
The United Nations condemned the “deviation of materials” in a statement released at the time, but refrained from naming Hamas as responsible.
“Those who seek to gain through the deviation of materials are stealing from their own people and adding to the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza,” said Mladenov.
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.Whether we can trust any of this is another story. My impression is that Hamas doesn't usually steal the cement for tunnels, rather Gaza homeowners are choosing to sell the cement that they receive on the black market rather than rebuild their homes, and Hamas is buying it. That is very difficult to stop.
Mladenov also told Israel that the cement Hamas had stolen from private-sector contractors has been returned to them.
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