JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel plans to allow building materials meant for private projects into the Palestinian Gaza Strip for the first time in six years, an Israeli defense official said on Tuesday.

Gaza has been struggling with a shortage of building materials which has worsened since July, when the Egyptian military began a sweeping crackdown on tunnels used to smuggle goods and weapons from Egypt into the neighboring Palestinian enclave.

An Israeli defense official said that 350 trucks of cement, steel and concrete will cross into Gaza weekly and will deliver the materials to private hands for the first time since 2007.

Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007 after its enemy, Islamist group Hamas, seized control of the territory in a brief civil war with Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party.

Under international pressure, Israel began to ease the blockade in 2010 and allowed international aid agencies to import construction material. It further eased restrictions at the end of last year.

Gaza economist Maher Al-Tabba said the Israeli move was not enough to end the shortages. "The quantities of steel and cement to be allowed is a good start but it will not meet the needs. Gaza Strip needs double these quantities," he said.

The Israeli defense source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Israel's decision followed a request by Abbas.

Abbas and Israel restarted peace talks in July after a three-year hiatus. Hamas rejects peace with the Jewish state and has fought clashes with it several times in the past few years.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Maayan Lubell; editing by Mike Collett-White)