JERUSALEM, Jan 23 (Reuters) - A U.N. official said on Friday Israel was cooperating in efforts to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza but that far more had to be done to help the Palestinian territory recover after Israel’s offensive.
John Holmes, the U.N.’s Humanitarian Affairs chief, said Israel was allowing in more food and medicine into Gaza than it did before Dec. 27, when it launched the offensive against Hamas with the stated goal of stopping cross-border rocket attacks.
"I’ve detected a spirit of good will on the Israeli side to help do that," Holmes told Reuters, referring to efforts by aid organisations to transfer medical, food and other urgent supplies to Gaza through border crossings controlled by Israel.
He said construction materials were urgently needed to rebuild thousands of homes and government buildings destroyed in fighting but the challenge remained to reassure Israel that the equipment would not be used by Hamas to manufacture arms.
"We have to be able to get in cement, we have to be able to get in pipes, spare parts, few bits of equipment of all kinds. And that’s been very difficult in the past because of Israeli security concerns about rearming Hamas," Holmes said.
Israel has come under criticism for hindering reconstruction efforts in Gaza by refusing to allow in materials like cement and steel, which the Jewish state believes could be used by Hamas to manufacture rockets.
"We have had good cooperation from the Israeli authorities in the last few weeks, actually paradoxically better than we had before the hostilities started," Holmes said.
Holmes added that Israel was allowing the daily transfer of 120 truckloads of food and medical supplies into Gaza, most of whose 1.5 million Palestinian inhabitants are aid-dependant.
Israel tightened its blockade on Gaza in 2007 when Hamas seized control of the territory after routing Fatah forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas who holds sway in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
"What we need now is to get the crossing points open in a much fuller way if we are going to start reconstructing," Holmes said.
Palestinians relied on a network of tunnels dug under the border with Egypt to smuggle anything from cattle to explosives and weapons. Israel said its air force destroyed most of the tunnels during the offensive and has sought international guarantees to seal Egypt’s porous border with the Gaza Strip.
Holmes said the U.N. was working with other parties to ease the blockade while accommodating Israel’s security concerns.
"The answer may not be perfect but it has to be better than now. We really cannot go back to the old situation," he said. (Reporting by Ben Gruber, writing by Joseph Nasr, editing by Diana Abdallah)