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Israel allows cement into Gaza

Israel will allow a one-time shipment of cement into Gaza on Thursday, the first of its kind since Israel’s military operations in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip last winter. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense MinisterEhud Barak signed off on the cement transfer, which will allow about 340 tons into the region to rebuild a flour mill, a sewage treatment center, and the British cemetery. The facilities on the receiving end of the cement deal were all struck in the 22-day "Operation Cast Lead," which left much of the region’s infrastructure damaged beyond repair. Israel has barred cement and other construction materials from the Gaza Strip since the war and reconstruction efforts have been at a standstill. Israeli officials said the one-time shipment will also include some steel and take place "in the coming weeks." The cement transfer is being framed as the second gesture Israel has made towards the people of Gaza this week: on Wednesday, all Gaza crossings were opened, allowing for humanitarian aid and agricultural goods to enter the region. The moves coincide with the arrival of a number of high-level American envoys in Israel.