Hamas official denies stealing cement, warns of ‘explosion’
UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov is working with Israeli and Palestinian authorities to try to resolve the issue
A Palestinian official on Tuesday denied Israeli charges of syphoning off cement imports to Gaza and warned of a potential “explosion” unless a cement ban is lifted.
Israel on Monday announced it had stopped private imports of cement to the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave, accusing Imad al-Baz, deputy director of the economy ministry, of diverting supplies.
But Baz denied any offence, saying the imports were in line with a UN-brokered Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism, aimed at allowing for reconstruction following a devastating 2014 war with Israel.
“We don’t interfere with the cement mechanism,” he told AFP, adding that all cement distribution sites in Gaza are monitored by Israeli cameras.
He warned that Israel’s decision would have “dire consequences” including “stopping the wheels of reconstruction, destroying the economy and increasing unemployment with adverse repercussions for tens of thousands of citizens”.
“If Israel continues to prevent the supply of cement to Gaza, the situation will explode in the face of the occupation and it will bear the responsibility.”
The Israeli defence ministry body responsible for implementing government policies in the Palestinian territories, COGAT, accused Baz on Monday of taking “construction materials intended for civil reconstruction”.
“This is a clear example of how Hamas continues to abuse and harm Gaza’s civil population to advance their own personal agenda,” it charged.
Robert Piper, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, said they did not have the evidence Israel was referring to, but were seeking to resolve the issue.
The ban only affected private providers, he said, so Qatar, a major donor to Gazan reconstruction, and the United Nations were still able to bring in cement.
“We’re hoping that this will be kept to a very short window,” he told AFP. “It mustn’t drag on because it will have an impact on the recovery process.”
Over 1.2 million tons of construction materials have entered Gaza since the reconstruction mechanism was set up in 2014.
According to an Israeli official, 80 truckloads of cement enter Gaza weekly, each one carrying 40 tonnes.
Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza since 2006. Palestinian militants in Gaza and the Jewish state have fought three wars since 2008.
In recent months, Hamas has been accused of rebuilding tunnels destroyed in 2014 that could be used to attack Israel. Hamas officials say any such tunnels would be defensive in nature.
The strip of 1.8 million people has one of the world’s highest unemployment rates and poverty is widespread.
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