Gaza reconstruction shipments to start next week

By Mohammed Daraghmeh, AP

RAMALLAH, West Bank–A senior Palestinian official said Friday that Israel will allow more building materials into Gaza from next week, as part of a U.N.-brokered deal for rebuilding the war-battered territory.

The shipments will start Sunday, said Mohammed Mustafa, deputy prime minister in the Palestinian unity government that is to oversee the Gaza reconstruction efforts. Palestinian inspectors will be deployed on the Gaza side of the border next week — as early as Sunday — to oversee the imports, Mustafa said in a phone interview.

Israeli defense official Hadar Horen said she did not know when such shipments would begin.

The start of the imports would coincide with an international pledging conference in Cairo where the Palestinians will seek US$4 billion for Gaza reconstruction.

Until now, Israel only permitted shipments of building materials for projects supervised by international agencies, but not for Gaza’s private sector. Israel fears the Islamic militant group Hamas will divert shipments for military use, including bunkers and tunnels.

Israel and Hamas fought a 50-day war this summer.

During the fighting, Israel launched thousands of airstrikes against what it described as Hamas-linked targets and also destroyed more than 30 Hamas attack tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border. Gaza militants fired thousands of rockets and mortars at Israel. More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed, along with 71 Israelis and a Thai worker.

The fighting devastated large areas of Gaza, destroying or damaging more than 60,000 homes and more than 5,000 businesses, according to the Palestinian government and the United Nations.