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Closing Karni crossing will 'only tighten siege'

Jan. 14, 2011 9:58 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 16, 2011 9:42 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- After denying reports that the Karni crossing would close at the end of January, Israeli security officials told The Jerusalem Post that the military intends to close terminal.

On Thursday, when Gaza officials learned of the intended closure, spokeswoman for Israel's Coordination and Liaison Administration for the Gaza Strip Lieutenant Nili Aharon told Ma'an she was not aware of any planned changes in the crossings schedule. She said proper notification would be given if such an change were to occur.

The closure of the bulk goods crossing, which opens twice a week or less for the import of construction aggregates, wheat, rice and animal feed, would put the load of all goods entering Gaza to the southernmost crossing, Kerem Shalom.

Even with the Karni crossing open twice a week, UN officials from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warned of a wheat shortage, since conveyor belts operating twice a week for wheat were reduced to once a week, with the second opening reserved for the import of construction aggregates following the planned loosening of the Israeli siege on Gaza in June.

In December 2009, when Israeli officials closed the Nahal Oz fuel terminal and moved the fuel infrastructure to Kerem Shalom, the new setting gave a reduced capacity for fuel imports, initially causing shortages. With wheat already in short supply in Gaza, residents worry what effect the closure would have.

"Kerem Shalom is a bottleneck through which we are forced to bring assistance to over one million people," UNRWA spokesman in Jerusalem Chris Gunness told Ma'an. "The 2005 crossings agreement must be implemented," he continued, "and a consistent and predictable schedule for the import and export of goods from Karni established."

Without adequate crossings protocol, Gunness said it would be impossible to supply the necessary goods for a full Gaza recovery. "We must end the collective punishment of the people of Gaza," he said.

Interviewed for this report, business men, economists and representatives of the private sector said the closure of Karni would only tighten the siege, further restrict the goods coming into Gaza, and almost certainly prevent a real export market from developing.

In December, Israeli officials said that the new year would bring a further loosening of the blockade, and some products would be permitted for export, including produce, furniture and some other goods. No change in export permissions has come though, with the sole goods leaving the Strip coming from a Dutch government program to support Gaza farmers. For the past two years the program has seen strawberries and carnations exported to Europe from about a dozen farms.

Business owners told Ma'an that the crossing infrastructure at Kerem Shalom was already insufficient to bring in needed goods. The crossing, initially built to allow in humanitarian goods, would have to support all of the imports for 1.5 million Gaza residents.

Moreover, one factory owner noted, if exports are ever permitted, businesses would have to transport goods from the northern industrial zones to the other end of the coastal enclave, then have them driven straight back north for shipment to either the West Bank or to foreign markets.

Coordinator of the Crossing Committee in Gaza told Ma'an that the infrastructure at Kerem Shalom was so insufficient that congestion at the terminal would spill over into the nearby city of Rafah, and disrupt traffic on the main Salah Ad-Din highway running from south to north.

"The road is not of a sufficient quality to see that much traffic on it," he said.

In June, a world outcry forced Israel to loosen its siege on Gaza, and saw almost immediately an increase in the variety of goods permitted to enter the area. The decision to allow in ketchup and shoe laces - items previously barred from entry - was met with criticism, and calls for the entry of industrial products and supplies so that factories could re-open and the job market be expanded.

Though some supplies were permitted in, monitors say they are not sufficient to re-launch the manufacturing industry.

The outcry demanding a lifting of the siege followed the killing of nine activists on board a Turkish ship bound for Gaza, carrying supplies in an effort to break the blockade.
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