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Israel Eases Building Materials Blockade On Gaza

Another major concession the Gazans seek would be a lifting of a near-ban on exports from the impoverished territory. Exports, especially to the West Bank, the Palestinian territory on the opposite side of Israel, once formed the backbone of Gaza's economy.

Exports might be expanded, Inbar said, "depending on the continuation of the calm."

Critics contend the export ban punishes ordinary Gazans instead of pressuring Hamas, hurting four in five Gaza factories and contributing heavily to an unemployment rate of about one-third of the work force. Eighty percent of Gaza's 1.6 million people rely on U.N. handouts.

Israel lifted its restrictions on consumer goods entering Gaza overland after a deadly Israeli naval raid on a blockade-busting flotilla in 2010 drew international attention to the Israeli embargo. But the blockade on construction materials remained intact, save for shipments used to build U.N. schools and a pilot project of shipments to the private sector a year ago.

"The Israelis promised to undertake further measures to alleviate the difficult economic situation in Gaza as a result of the calm," said Palestinian crossing official Raed Fattouh in Gaza, confirming that the Israelis had agreed to send in 20 trucks of gravel daily, five days a week. "This move had been expected as part of the deal."

Israel has not eased its naval blockade of the territory, which it says is imperative to keep weapons from being smuggled into Gaza by sea.

Egypt, which had joined the Israeli blockade, similarly eased its own restrictions on Saturday, allowing in 1,400 tons of gravel paid for by Qatar. The oil-rich emirate recently pledged $425 million to build housing, schools, a hospital and roads in Gaza as part of its attempt to build its influence in Palestinian politics and its power in the region, at the expense of regional rival Iran, Hamas' longtime patron.

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