By Nidal al-Mughrabi
GAZA (Reuters) - Israel eased its blockade of Gaza on Sunday, allowing a shipment of gravel for private construction into the Palestinian territory for the first time since Hamas seized control in 2007.
A Palestinian official with knowledge of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that ended eight days of fighting last month between Israel and Gaza militants said the move had been expected as part of the deal.
"This is the first time gravel has been allowed into Gaza for the Palestinian private sector since the blockade," said Raed Fattouh, the Palestinian official overseeing the shipment of 20 truckloads of the material.
Israel tightened the blockade after Hamas, an Islamist group that refuses to recognize the Jewish state, took power five years ago. But under international pressure, Israel began to ease the restrictions in 2010 and has allowed international aid agencies to import construction material.
The gravel was transferred a day after Egypt allowed building material into Gaza through its Rafah crossing, departing from a six-year ban. It was part of a shipment donated by the Gulf Arab state of Qatar, which has pledged $400 million to finance reconstruction.
Gaza economists say nearly 70 percent of the enclave's commercial needs - including building material and fuel - were being met through shipments via Israel and a network of smuggling tunnels running under the Egyptian border.
One Palestinian official said Israeli counterparts had promised "other building items" would be allowed into Gaza in the coming days.
"Israel has promised to ease the blockade more if the truce continues to hold," said the official, who asked not to be identified.
Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, speaking to reporters in Jerusalem, said more than 300 truckloads of goods have been moving from Israel to the Gaza Strip on a daily basis.
"They can have much more if they would like to," he said.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Angus MacSwan)