World and Nation

Deal reached on Gaza reconstruction

JERUSALEM — President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority said Thursday night that he had reached an agreement with Israel and the United Nations to allow imports of reconstruction materials into the Gaza Strip, apparently bypassing Hamas to fulfill a key tenet of the cease-fire agreement that halted hostilities on Aug. 26.

Abbas did not provide specifics about when the imports might begin, how much would be allowed or who, exactly, would control the process. Spokesmen for the United Nations office that has been negotiating the deal, the Israeli prime minister, and the Israeli agency responsible for coordinating activities in Gaza did not return telephone calls late Thursday.

But at an evening meeting of the Palestinian leadership, Abbas said that a former minister and a United Nations representative had “signed an agreement which allows the entry of all materials to Gaza and the exporting of what’s possible to export from Gaza abroad, which will alleviate the living burdens on the people.” The comments were broadcast on television.

Gaza residents have been increasingly frustrated that more than two weeks after the cease-fire, its promise of open crossings into Israel has not been fulfilled. Some 11,000 homes were destroyed and more than 50,000 buildings damaged in Israel’s seven-week battle against Hamas, the militant Islamist movement that dominates the strip.

Palestinian leaders estimated reconstruction costs at $7 billion and planned an international donor conference for next month. Yet it was unclear whether Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah faction could agree on an import arrangement that would meet Israel’s security demands to ensure that materials not be diverted to military purposes.

A United Nations official who requested anonymity confirmed that the deal would be finalized on Friday.

Abbas’ assertion that an agreement had been reached came hours after the broadcast of a television interview in which a senior Hamas leader said the group might have to reverse its longstanding ban on direct negotiations with Israel because the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire had not yielded progress on reconstruction.

The interview with the senior leader, Mousa Abu Marzook, along with Hamas’ partial payment of salaries on Thursday to employees of its former Gaza government, highlighted the increasing tension threatening the recent reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

Marzook, who is based in Cairo and has been visiting Gaza, told Al-Quds Television that Islamic law did not ban direct talks with Israel, and that Hamas “may find itself compelled to this behavior” because of the Palestinian Authority’s failure to meet the needs of Gaza residents.

Marzook’s comments may have been less about a practical policy change than a political shot at Abbas, whose harsh criticism of Hamas over the weekend renewed doubts about the durability of the reconciliation pact signed in April.