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Israel Eases Building Materials Blockade On Gaza

Shipments from Egypt are expected to be ramped up to 4,000 tons daily, said Yassir al Shanti, Gaza's deputy minister of housing and public works. He estimated Gaza needs up to 3 million tons of gravel to build roads and that the Qatar-funded projects need more than 1 million tons.

The shipments from Egypt were launched following consultation with Israeli officials, who were in Cairo Thursday to discuss the cease-fire and other matters, an Egyptian official said last week.

Under former President Hosni Mubarak, Israel's longtime ally, Egypt had poor relations with Hamas, and teamed up with Israel to blockade Gaza. Egypt's new president, Mohammed Morsi, comes from Hamas' parent group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and has vowed not to abandon the Palestinians. But he is moving cautiously, in part to avoid alienating Cairo's biggest patron, the United States.

Palestinian economist Mouin Rajab said the new shipments would go only a small way to meet the needs Gaza has accumulated throughout six years of blockade, during which time Hamas and Israel warred twice.

"Gaza needs more than what Israel has allowed and what Egypt has promised to allow. We are talking about six years of blockade, no real economy and no projects in addition to what Gaza lost during two wars in 2009 and 2012."

"This amount which has been sent by the Israelis still is cosmetic," a Hamas government official in Gaza said. "Israel, according to the understanding, should allow more building materials into Gaza as part of the understandings reached by Cairo. We are waiting and we told the Egyptians that."

He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the understandings.

Reconstruction since the 2009 fighting has been slow, in large part because of the blockades. To make up the shortage, a bustling smuggling industry through underground tunnels along the Egyptian border has sprung up. While prices for key construction goods have come down, they still remain expensive for the majority of Gaza's 1.6 million people, 80 percent of whom rely on U.N. handouts.

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