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UN chief arrives in Gaza as reconstruction materials reportedly to be allowed in

Ban Ki-Moon is visiting Gaza for the first time since Operation Protective Edge ended on 26 August
There has been confusion about what kinds of materials will be let in and when they will start arriving (AFP)

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon arrived at Gaza’s Erez crossing on Tuesday morning, as Israel reportedly said it would allow a significant amount of reconstruction materials through for the first time.

Ban is visiting the strip to observe conditions in the wake of the deadly 51-day, which saw much of Gaza’s key infrastructure levelled this summer.

His visit comes as an Israeli official announced on Tuesday that more reconstruction supplies would be allowed to flow into the Strip, starting today.

Initial reports indicate that there has already been some loosening of restrictions, with goods being able to leave Gaza for the West Bank for the first time in years. 

Palestinian officials had said to expect an easing of the blockade for reconstruction materials as early as Sunday, but progress has been slow with Israel warning that it security concerns had not yet been addressed.

On Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that the “border crossings are still in our hands” although he stressed that he would continue to work with the UN and the Palestinian Authority to kick-start the reconstruction process.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin also said that Israel was prepared to lift restrictions but only after the Palestinian Authority and the international community stepped in to neutralise the "terrorist" capabilities of Hamas.

Despite reports that the PA would step in to takeover security at Gaza’s border crossings on Sunday, this failed to materialise.

Ban’s visit comes on the back of a Cairo international donor conference that managed to raise $5.4 bn for the Palestinians over the weekend.

During the meet, which was not attended by Hamas or Israel, it was agreed that the UN would supervise the use of any construction material or heavy equipment in the Strip to assure that it was not used to rebuild Hamas’ tunnels.

“The UN-brokered trilateral agreement on a temporary Gaza reconstruction mechanism has opened the door for much needed reconstruction, taking fully into account Israel’s legitimate security concerns,” Ban said, at the start of a two-day visit to the region. “I urge both sides to implement this mechanism in good faith.”

“If conditions in Gaza simply revert to where they were before this escalation, the clock will be reset for more instability, underdevelopment and conflict,” he added on Monday.

While the Cairo conference technically managed to exceed the $4bn reconstruction fund originally asked for by the PA, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah has said that only half of the pledged cash will go to reconstruction, with the rest being used to cover other Palestinian budgetary needs for the next three years. 

Many blamed donor "fatigue" for the shortfall in funds, with many diplomats reportedly wary of contributing vast sums for reconstruction without a lasting political deal. Gaza has seen three brutal wars in less than six years. The latest, Operation Protective Edge ended on 26 August after a long-term ceasefire was penned between Hamas and Israel in Cairo. However that deal has yet to translate into a lasting truce, with many areas of contention left undecided. 

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