JERUSALEM – Israel announced that it will stop allowing cement into the Gaza Strip after it discovered Hamas is using the material to rebuild its terror tunnels.
The material’s original purpose was to help reconstruct homes damaged or destroyed in Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas.
The Israel Defense Forces’ Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai, said Tuesday that the ban on importing cement into the Strip will remain in force until Israel is certain that the material is not being stolen by Hamas.
The mechanism by which the cement is shipped includes Israel, the Palestinian Authority government of prime minister Rami Hamdallah, and the UN, which is charged with inspecting goods entering Gaza.
“The international authority for the reconstruction of Gaza announces that over the past few days a person at the economy ministry in Gaza, Imad Elbaz from the Hamas movement, took over some of the construction materials that entered the Gaza Strip,” Israel’s Channel 10 quoted a statement from COGAT.
This action is a severe violation of international agreements, and therefore Yoav Mordechai decided to freeze shipments intended for the private sector until an investigation into the matter is held and the issue is resolved. We regret the efforts by Hamas, which takes advantage of Palestinian civilians for its private interests.
The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, said in a statement that the UN was informed of the decision to halt imports “following allegations that a substantial amount had been diverted from its intended legitimate beneficiaries.”
Mladenov’s statement said of Hamas: “Those who seek to gain through the deviation of materials are stealing from their own people and adding to the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza.”
According to Hebrew website NRG, the shipping of cement for use in the public sector continues, and only private shipments are being withheld for now.
Israel, the report said, is aware that some residents whose homes were damaged or destroyed sell the cement they receive to Hamas, creating a black market in the Strip, but the amounts of cement recently found missing from storage facilities indicated a larger-scale problem.
Hamas has been building the tunnels it relies on as a weapon against Israel even after Israel destroyed most of them during the war in 2014. The terror group has been working to rebuild the tunnels that cross into Israel for terrorist purposes; as well as tunnels crossing the southern border of the Gaza Strip into Egypt, which are used for smuggling.
Last year, Egypt dug a channel along the border and flooded it with water in an anti-smuggling effort. The Egyptians accused Hamas of treating wounded terrorists fighting the Egyptian army in the Sinai, a charge Hamas denied.
Over the past two months, Hamas announced several instances in which its operatives were killed in tunnel collapses, often obfuscating the reason for the collapse.
Two months ago, the West Bank-based Palestinian Ma’an news agency asked Mordechai if Israel had anything to do with the mysterious tunnel collapses. Mordechai answered cryptically, “Only God knows.”