With blockade eased, building materials enter Gaza

An Egyptian truck loaded with gravel enters through the Rafah border crossing, between Egypt and Gaza Strip, December 29, 2012, as building material for the Qatari grant projects begin arriving.

Thousands of tons of building materials, such as cement and steel, began crossing into the Gaza Strip on Saturday, Egyptian and Palestinian officials said, as Israel eased its five-year-old blockade on the Hamas-ruled territory.

Israel agreed to ease the blockade on Gaza under terms of a cease-fire that ended eight days of fierce fighting with Hamas last month, reports CBS News correspondent Robert Berger.

Trucks carrying gravel for private construction entered Gaza from Israel for the first time since Hamas seized control of the Palestinian territory.

Israel says 300 truckloads of goods are now entering Gaza each day.

The director of Gaza's border authority, Maher Abu Sabha, confirmed to The Associated Press that Qatar is paying for the raw materials that were bought in Egypt, to be transported through the Rafah border crossing.

The tiny oil-rich Gulf country has pledged support for 24 projects, worth some $425 million, to improve crumbling housing, schools, a hospital and roads in the Gaza Strip.

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.