Defense Minister Ehud Barak has ordered a halt in shipments of cement to Gaza after military and intelligence officials discovered that Hamas is using some of the material to build smuggling tunnels instead of using the concrete for stated civilian projects.
Israel had allowed the cement in order to ease conditions for Gaza residents, who have been receiving humanitarian shipments despite continued mortar shelling and rocket attacks on southern Israel.
Under pressure from the Obama administration, Defense Minister Barak authorized a large quantity of metal pipes and 300 tons of cement to be shipped to Gaza despite fears that Hamas would use the building materials for smuggling tunnels and to build more Kassam rockets.
The cement was to be used for a sewage system, a damaged flour mill and for renovations of a cemetery for British soldiers killed in World War I. Instead, Hamas diverted part of the shipment to rebuild its tunnels, used to smuggle terrorists, weapons, ammunition and black market merchandise that has become a staple of the Gaza economy.
Analysts have noted that Hamas is not interested in opening the Gaza crossings for regular shipments because of the powerful smuggling tunnel industry, from which Hamas reaps profits.
Calves for Ramadan
Israel also has agreed to allow 3,000 calves to be shipped to Gaza for the Muslim month of Ramadan, when every day from sunrise to sundown is a fast day until the end of the month. The month of Ramadan begins next week.
Gaza officials also told the Bethlehem-based Ma'an news agency that Israel will open the Kerem Shalom crossing and the Nahal Oz fuel transfer station. Egypt also has opened the Rafiah crossing, between Gaza and Egypt, to allow more than 2,500 Gaza Arabs to visit Mecca on the annual Islamic Haj pilgrimage via the Cairo airport.