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ISRAEL-OPT: Rocket attack throws Gaza crossing plan into jeopardy

JERUSALEM, 20 August 2008 (IRIN) - Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak closed all crossing points to the Gaza Strip on 20 August, after militants in the enclave fired a rocket into Israel, which caused no damage or harm.

The attack comes as Israel was planning to reopen the Kerem Shalom Crossing to the Gaza Strip later this week, officials said.

Trials were under way on 18-19 August to see how the reopened crossing would function in practice, and on 19 August some 55 truckloads of goods entered southern Gaza via the crossing.

Kerem Shalom crossing was closed after a suicide bomb attack in April, for which the Islamist group ruling Gaza, Hamas, has claimed responsibility.

The current Gaza-Israel ceasefire, which dates from June 2008, has led to an increase in the amount of goods allowed into Gaza compared to the period of tight sanctions before it started, according to residents and Israeli officials.

Prior to June, only basic humanitarian items were allowed in. Now the list of approved items has been expanded to include other goods, such as cement and wood.

Israel also said it would allow in school supplies. "In preparation for the school year, school bags, paper, paper for printing and other items are to go in," said Maj Peter Lerner from the coordination unit at the Ministry of Defence. Palestinians in Gaza had been complaining that with state schools set to start on 24 August they could not find supplies for the children.

Even with the changes, the amounts allowed in are a fraction of what went in before Hamas took over the enclave last year.

If the reopening of the Kerem Shalom Crossing goes ahead, it should mean an increased quantity of goods getting through, said Lerner.

Karni Crossing

However, in Gaza, the feeling was that without the full reopening of the main commercial Karni Crossing, near the centre of the enclave, little impact would be felt.

"For the revival of the economy, Karni must be fully reopened," said Faysel a-Shawa from the Palestinian Business Association.

"The facility there is equipped and logistic capabilities are available. Karni was built to allow in lots of materials in a short time," said a-Shawa.

According to PalTrade (Palestinian Trade Center), in May 2007 over 8,600 truckloads of goods were imported into Gaza via Karni and about 630 truckloads exited the enclave. Only 124 trucks have left Gaza since June 2007, with the last shipment taking place in January.

Last month, however, saw a sharp rise in the amount of goods going in through Karni, with about 2,800 trucks entering, compared to 780 in June and about 300 in April, according to PalTrade. It said most of the rise could be attributed to the aggregate finally allowed in after many months of sanctions, though other goods were also needed.

A-Shawa said most of the cement and gravel went towards completing projects started before sanctions were imposed on Gaza after the takeover by Hamas in June 2007. He said few people had embarked on new construction projects in 2007.

Still, signs of wary optimism were seen in Gaza in August. Although 2007 strawberry exports were stopped by the sanctions, many strawberry growers planted their crops (ahead of an export season expected to begin in mid-November) in the hope some would be allowed out. So far there has been no indication that they will, and the latest attack will not have helped.

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Copyright © IRIN 2008
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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