Defense Minister Ehud Barak has authorized the transfer of several hundred tons of cement, metal pipes, and other construction materials to Gaza for the first time since the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead in January. In addition, Barak authorized the monthly transfer of 104 million shekels ($26 million) to Gaza, to pay the salaries of Palestinian Authority loyalists.
The move has sparked accusations that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is going back on promises he made during the election campaign.
Israel had denied requests for cement for several months, due to concern that construction materials could be used by Gaza terrorists. In the past, Hamas and other terrorist groups have diverted cement from construction projects to build bunkers, and have taken metal pipes meant to restore Gaza's failing sewer system in order to build rockets.
Barak authorized the transfer of supplies under the auspices of the United Nations. The UN encouraged Israel to approve the transfer, promising that supplies would be used to complete ten UN-sponsored projects. The projects include the reconstruction of a flour mill and repairs to a sewer plant.
Netanyahu's aides reported that the prime minister had not been a party to the agreement to allow cement into Gaza, but that he agrees with Barak's decision.
Netanyahu: Crossings to Stay Closed
While Israel will allow more supplies into Gaza, Gaza crossings will remain closed, Netanyahu clarified Wednesday in a meeting with U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones. Crossings between Israel and Gaza will reopen only when Hamas releases kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, he said.
Netanyahu pointed out that in Judea and Samaria, Israel has taken several steps to ease those restrictions that could negatively impact Arab civilians. In (Hamas-ruled) Gaza, however, Israel will continue to ease restrictions only in cases of humanitarian need, he said.
Legal Forum: Bibi Broke his Promises
The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel reacted with dismay to Barak's decision to allow money transfers to Gaza. “It is a shame that the prime minister did not keep his campaign promise not to transfer money to Hamas,” said Forum chairman Nachi Eyal.
"The transfer of NIS 100 million a month stands in opposition to Netanyahu's statements last night regarding the importance of toppling Hamas,” Eyal continued. “This will strengthen the Hamas regime in Gaza; this mistake will cost us lives.”
"The government's policy of closing its eyes to reality is dangerous. With our own hands, we are building the bunkers that our soldiers will face in Cast Lead 2, and providing the raw materials for the rockets that will be launched at Ashkelon and Sderot,” he concluded.
While Israel has forbidden the transfer of cash to Gaza since the Hamas takeover in 2007, for fear that the money will fall into Hamas' hands, the Fatah-led PA based in Ramallah has been allowed to transfer money to its Gaza employees on several occasions.