A Palestinian checks bags of cement at the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and southern Gaza Strip May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa(reuters_tickers)
By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA (Reuters) - Israel on Monday resumed deliveries to the Gaza Strip of cement for home reconstruction by private individuals, ending a 45-day-old ban it imposed after it accused the Palestinian enclave's Hamas rulers of seizing some of the stock.
Hamas has denied Israeli charges that it siphons off cement imports to help build and fortify attack tunnels.
Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, welcomed the resumption of the shipments, saying in a statement that "all sides need to ensure that cement deliveries reach their intended beneficiaries and are used solely for civilian purposes."
The Israeli ban had not affected cement deliveries for housing projects overseen by international aid groups and foreign governments.
The first of some 90 truckloads of cement entered the Gaza Strip through an Israeli-controlled border crossing on Monday and Palestinian officials said they expected some 4,000 tonnes of the material would be brought in by the end of the day.
"But this can be reversed if we see another (Hamas) violation," an Israeli official told Reuters.
The United Nations said 140,000 houses were partially or completely damaged during a 2014 war between Israel and the Hamas-led Gaza militants. Palestinians said 2,100 people, mostly civilians, were killed. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians were also killed.
Adnan Abu Hasna, media adviser for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, said 1,000 houses were currently under reconstruction and 70,000 other homes with minor damage have been repaired. Another 1,000 houses were completely rebuilt by Qatar.
U.N. officials and international visitors to the region in past weeks have urged Israel to speed up the entry of construction material into Gaza to speed up the rebuilding process.
(This story has been corrected to clarify suspension affected only privately-imported cement)
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Editing by Jeffrey Heller)