JERUSALEM -- For the first time in five years, Israel on Sunday allowed 20 truckloads of building materials into Gaza for use by the private sector, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials. One of the first tangible concessions under a cease-fire deal reached after eight days of intensive fighting in November, it signaled a shift in Israel's approach to the Palestinian enclave.
Israeli officials said that construction materials would now be allowed in on a daily basis via the Kerem Shalom crossing on Israel's border with Gaza.
The shipment on Sunday came in addition to 34 trucks of gravel that crossed into Gaza over the weekend from Egypt, which also had Israel's approval. The materials from Egypt were earmarked for housing complexes and other construction projects that the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, pledged to pay for when he visited Gaza in October.
The easing of restrictions on imports is a result of continuing talks in Cairo meant to anchor the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza. Israel is holding the discussions with Egypt and has no direct contact with Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist.
Israel has strictly controlled the entry of building materials. Israeli officials have argued that such materials could otherwise be used by militants for manufacturing weapons or constructing tunnels and bunkers.
In return for loosening the movement of goods, Israeli officials say, Egypt is expected to help prevent the smuggling of weapons into Gaza.
Maj. Guy Inbar, a spokesman for the Israeli authority responsible for the crossings, said that Israel had approved the transfer of materials to the private sector "against the background of the talks with the Egyptians and the quiet that has prevailed" in the past five weeks along the Israel-Gaza border.
Soon after the cease-fire was announced, the fishing zone off the Gaza coast was extended for Palestinian fishermen from three nautical miles to six nautical miles, and Palestinian residents of Gaza were given more access to lands in a buffer zone imposed by Israel along the border.
Taher al-Nounou, a spokesman for the Hamas government in Gaza, said Sunday that the construction materials coming from Egypt would increase to 100 trucks a day and that as part of the cease-fire agreement with Israel, more goods, including cars, would enter Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing.
"Israel is aware now that it will lose a lot financially if it doesn't sell its goods to the consumers in Gaza," Mr. Nounou added.
The last round of hostilities began in mid-November when Israel began an assault on the enclave after militants there stepped up rocket attacks against southern Israel. During eight days of fighting, Israel bombed more than 1,000 targets in Gaza and the militants fired more than 1,500 rockets into Israel, leaving more than 160 Palestinians and 6 Israelis dead.
With the cease-fire, the parties agreed to begin dealing with broader issues like easing restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza. The sides have revealed little detail about the progress of talks in Cairo. Israel has played down the shift in its blockade policy, presumably not wanting to feed the Hamas assertions of victory over Israel in the latest conflict, particularly ahead of Israeli elections on Jan. 22.
But Israeli officials have explained the willingness to ease restrictions in terms of trying to ensure the longevity of the cease-fire. They say that the discussions over the deal have also provided Israel with a welcome channel of communication with the new Egyptian leadership under President Mohamed Morsi, seen here as important for the preservation of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
The election of Mr. Morsi, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader, brought Hamas, a Palestinian offshoot of the Brotherhood, closer to Cairo. The ousted president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, was hostile to the Islamists and helped Israel impose a tight blockade on Gaza after Hamas took over there in 2007. But Egypt under Mr. Morsi's leadership has also remained cautious, and expectations in Gaza that the border with Egypt would be thrown open have not yet been realized.
Israel began to ease restrictions on many imports into Gaza in 2010, under international pressure after a deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish boat that was trying to breach the naval blockade. Most everyday products were allowed in. But Israel continued to ban cement, steel and other building materials for the private sector and some other products that Israel deemed a security risk. Gaza contractors came to rely on getting construction materials that were smuggled in from Egypt through a vast network of tunnels running under the border.
For that reason, some in Gaza were not particularly impressed by news of building materials arriving from Israel. Majdi Qawalishi, who owns a brick factory in Gaza City, said that the gravel that came through the tunnels from Egypt was significantly cheaper than gravel from Israel, saving him about $300 per day.
"I am not really bothered about the Israeli building materials," he said, "as long as those from Egypt are widely available."
An employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Gaza.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.