Israel agrees to allow building materials into Gaza
JERUSALEM — Under pressure from the United Nations amid a mounting economic and humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, Israel has agreed to restart the transfer of construction materials to Gaza on Tuesday after an eight-week hiatus.
But the building supplies will be allowed in only for U.N. projects, which employ a fraction of the thousands of construction workers who have been idled, and negotiations to resolve Gaza’s fuel shortage have not yielded significant results.
“We are increasingly concerned about the situation in Gaza deteriorating,” Robert H. Serry, the U.N. special envoy for the Middle East peace process, said in an interview. Serry, who worked with Israeli officials to resume the import of construction materials, acknowledged that “it is only one part of the constraints we are facing in Gaza,” and added, “Without also addressing the political underlying issues, everything we’re doing in Gaza is tenuous.”
Gaza, home to 1.7 million Palestinians and controlled since 2007 by the militant Islamic Hamas movement, has been struggling since the summer to cope with the current Egyptian government’s closing of hundreds of smuggling tunnels through which the strip received steel, gravel and cheap diesel fuel, as well as consumer products.
The situation worsened Nov. 1, when Hamas shut down Gaza’s lone power plant because of a shortage of electricity and cheap fuel from Egypt, stretching blackouts up to 18 hours a day and causing raw sewage to flood some streets because pumping stations could not operate.
Late last month, Turkey donated about $850,000 in fuel, which is being used for 100 critical spots, including pumping stations, schools and hospitals. But Palestinian and U.N. officials said that the fuel was not enough to address the broader energy problems plaguing daily life, and that in any case it would run out by February.
Serry’s office estimated that Gaza needed an infusion of $6 million to $8 million a month to address the fuel shortage. Qatar has expressed willingness to donate the money, but political friction between Gaza and the Palestinian Authority — which is dominated by Hamas’ political rival, Fatah — over taxes and other matters concerning the fuel’s importation have stymied the deal. On Sunday, despite the cold and rain, the Hamas power authority asked residents not to turn on their heaters to conserve electricity.