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Israel announced Sunday that it ceased allowing construction materials to enter the Gaza Strip in Palestine for private sector use until further notice after discovering what its military claimed was a mile-long tunnel dug from Gaza beyond the Israeli borders for more than two years.
The tunnel was discovered last week and considered a serious threat by Israel. However, Hamas, which controls Gaza, said that the Israeli announcement is an exaggeration that meant to justify any aggression and further tightening of the ongoing blockade since 2007.
This decision came after about a month of Israel allowing construction material for the private sector for the first time in more than six years. This policy, presented by Israel as a “new facilitation,” is considered a double-edged decision that meets political and economic interests.
The trucks allowed to enter Gaza on average aside from weekends represent less than 25 five percent of what Gaza’s 1.8 million people needs daily, according to Palestinian observers.
For one month Israel has allowed 70 trucks of construction materials per day, which represents not more than 15 percent of Gaza’s daily needs. For instance, the amount of cement is about 800 tons daily, while 4 to 5,000 tons are needed on average.
Israel’s step to allow goods including fuel and different materials serves Israel’s political interests. Observers in Gaza believe the siege should be lifted completely and end collective punishment policies against the Palestinian people.
They considered the timing is important to Israel and was used to show it does care for the livelihood of Palestinians in Gaza, especially in conjunction with Egypt’s strong fist against tunnels, fishing in the sea in or around Egyptian waters and movement on the Rafah crossing.
Egyptian procedures, which intensified after the ouster of the Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi in July, resulted in a growing humanitarian crisis, with closures of hundreds of tunnels used by Palestinians in Gaza to overcome the Israeli blockade.
When the Israeli decision was taken in September, its implication was not clear for more than a week later because of the Jewish holidays that caused the crossing to be frequently closed during that month.
The prices, especially the fuel imported from Israel, are double the fuel imported from Egypt. This solved shortage problems of this essential good but opened the door to another higher cost based on this surge.
In the meantime, continuous Egyptian restrictions on the Rafah crossing since June 30 increased the hardships of the movements of Palestinians to and from Gaza. These restrictions, sometimes announced for security reasons, resulted in closings for about 30 days in the last three months, while dozens of people were denied travel for security reasons.
This left Palestinians in Gaza without a door to the outside world except via the Erez crossing with Israel, which is not thought of as an alternative for many reasons because it is open only to humanitarian and medical cases, in addition to foreign nationals and international organizations’ permitted staff.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called on Israel recently to end the blockade on Gaza. However, very little has changed on the ground. The U.N. Office of Humanitarian Affairs stated, “There have been only limited easing of the ongoing restrictions imposed at legitimate crossing points from Israel. Consequently, an already fragile humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has worsened.”
Regarding the Sunday decision, The Center of Freedom of Movement (Gisha) commented that “the connection drawn between announcing the discovery of the tunnel and blocking the transfer of construction materials raises the specter of a punitive act.”
The Center said this act is “similar to cases in the past, in which Israel closed the civilian goods crossing Kerem Shalom [the only commercial crossing between Gaza and Israel] in response to rocket fire by militants.”
Since 2007, Israel blocked importing of thousands of items, including ketchup and mayonnaise and macaroni, but these three food items, was allowed again three years later, while construction materials stayed banned, until last month, and then banned again on Sunday.
The same happened with fuel, which was blocked frequently for security claims. Now the imported amounts are larger than before, because of Egypt’s turmoil and campaign against tunnels and the growing demand for several sectors.
Gaza construction activities have already suffered from such situation, the ongoing and planned projects decreased or delayed by the current shortage and increasing price differences that affected the cost and contractors.
Observers in Gaza say that without a crucial international intervention and real actions to press Israel, the occupying power by international law, nothing will change on the ground, and Gaza’s population will be at the mercy of the frequent restrictions and strong fist of the blockade.
People here thought that life would improve after the November ceasefire following the eight-day assault on Gaza, including farmers who are keen to return to their lands in the artificial buffer zone area at the borders with Israel. However, many of them were killed or injured since then.
Also, fishermen who asked to return to the 20-mile range according to agreement, while they were only allowed to approach from three restricted miles since 2007. However, since the ceasefire in late November 2012, even before reaching this demarcation line, many were targeted and arrested from a distance of six miles, according to a Gaza fishermen’s society.
Ahmed Dalloul is an Atlantic Post Correspondent based in the Gaza Strip.