GAZA - Israel will allow a one-time transfer of cement into Gaza for the first time since its war in the enclave and amid a new US peace push in the region, officials said on Wednesday.
Hardline Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak okayed the transfer of more than 310 tonnes of cement for rebuilding a flour mill, a sewage treatment facility and the British cemetery, one defence official said.
The one-off consignment will also include some steel and is expected to be transferred "in the coming weeks," he said.
Many buildings in Gaza remain in ruins since Israel's December-January offensive because of an acute shortage of construction materials that can only officially enter Gaza through Israel-controlled crossings.
Israel recently authorised the monthly transfer of 104 million shekels (26 million dollars) into Gaza to pay the wages of Palestinian Authority and United Nations Works and Relief Agency (UNRWA) employees.
After coming under massive international pressure to ease the blockade following its 22-day offensive in Gaza, it agreed to allow more food and basic goods in, but refused to authorise certain materials it said could be used for military purposes.
UN officials have met with Israeli counterparts in recent months in an effort to coordinate the transfer of badly needed materials for a number of construction projects in Gaza.
And several UN agencies on Tuesday urged Israel to allow materials into Gaza so that schools damaged in the war can be rebuilt in time for the new academic year.
Israel, which wants to crush any Palestinian liberation movement, responded to Hamas's win in the elections with sanctions, and almost completely blockaded the impoverished coastal strip after Hamas seized power in 2007, although a ‘lighter’ siege had already existed before.
Human rights groups, both international and Israeli, slammed Israel’s siege of Gaza, branding it “collective punishment.”
There are 1.5 million inhabitants in the Israeli-besieged.
A group of international lawyers and human rights activists had also accused Israel of committing “genocide” through its crippling blockade of the Strip.
Israel's war on Gaza killed nearly 1,400 Palestinians, mainly civilians, and wounded 5,450 others.
The war also left tens of thousands of houses destroyed, while their residents remained homeless.
Gaza is still considered under Israeli occupation as Israel controls air, sea and land access to the Strip.
The Rafah crossing with Egypt, Gaza's sole border crossing that bypasses Israel, rarely opens as Egypt is under immense US and Israeli pressure to keep the crossing shut.
Fatah has little administrative say in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and has no power in Arab east Jerusalem, both of which were illegally occupied by Israel in 1967.
Israel also currently occupies the Lebanese Shabaa Farms and the Syrian Golan Heights.