Israel has approved a rare shipment of cement to the Gaza Strip, Israeli officials said Monday, for the construction of a sewage treatment plant to replace one that collapsed last year, killing five people.
The World Bank project had been one exception to Israel’s severe restrictions on the entry of building materials and other goods into Gaza after Islamic Hamas militants seized control of the territory in June. Last month, Israel blocked the entrance of supplies for the sewage treatment plant as well, following an escalation of attacks on Israeli border towns by Gaza militants.
The project is one of the first successes of the envoy of the Quartet of Mideast mediators, Tony Blair, who was appointed last summer. The former British prime minister is trying to bolster the Palestinian economy as part of international efforts to help build institutions for a future state.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak agreed to allow the shipment of cement to Gaza in a meeting Sunday with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, officials from Barak’s office said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to discuss the matter with the press.
The project is meant to replace a dilapidated plant in northern Gaza where sewage pools collapsed last year, killing five people.
The Palestinian supervisor of the project, Sadi Ali, said Monday that he thought he could finish most of the project by August if cement were to arrive within two months. This would allow 90 percent of the sewage flowing to the old plant to be redirected to the new facility and thus reduce the health hazard, Ali said.