EL-ARISH, Egypt (AP) — Thousands of tons of building materials such as cement and steel began crossing into the Gaza Strip on Saturday, Egyptian and Palestinian officials said, temporarily easing a five year old blockade on the coastal territory.
An Egyptian security official said shipment was made in consultation with Israeli officials, who were in Cairo Thursday to discuss security in the Sinai Peninsula and the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire agreed upon by Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel last month. The Egyptian official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
The director of Gaza's border authority, Maher Abu Sabha, confirmed to The Associated Press that a total of 20 trucks carrying materials were expected to arrive in the coastal strip Saturday through the Rafah border crossing.
Qatar is paying for the raw materials that were bought in Egypt, the official added.
The tiny oil-rich Gulf country has pledged 24 projects worth some $425 million in the Gaza Strip to improve crumbling housing, schools, a hospital and roads.
Under former President Hosni Mubarak, Israel's longtime ally, Egypt had poor relations with Hamas, and teamed up with Israel to blockade Gaza after the militant group seized power from its rival Fatah in 2007, two years after winning elections.
While Israel has eased the blockade in recent years, key restrictions remain in place on exports out of Gaza and the entry of badly needed building materials and other goods into the territory.
New Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, of Hamas' parent group the Muslim Brotherhood, has vowed not to abandon the Palestinians. Unlike Mubarak in late 2008, Morsi kept the border crossing with the Gaza Strip open for movement of people and humanitarian supplies during Israel's latest offensive in November. Gaza has yet to fully recover from the two offensives, which left buildings, homes and schools in rubble.
Morsi reiterated in a nationwide speech Saturday that the Palestinian issue is important to Egyptians.
Since the blockade was first imposed, an extensive network of tunnels between Egypt and Gaza have been ferrying everything from cars to food to essential household items to Palestinians.
While Egypt has launched periodic crackdowns on the tunnels, its security forces generally ignore the movement of construction materials, fuel and consumer goods through what Palestinians consider an underground lifeline.
Associated Press correspondent Ibrahim Barzak contributed to this report from Gaza City, Gaza.