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Report: Dutch PM cancels scanner inauguration at Gaza border

Dec. 8, 2013 3:58 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 9, 2013 9:47 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- The Dutch Prime Minister cancelled Saturday a planned visit to the Gaza Strip to inaugurate a state-of-the-art security scanner at the Karem Shalom crossing with Israel, according to Israeli media.

The cancellation of the event is due to the Israeli government's refusal to allow Gaza's imports and exports to resume, even with a security scanner, Haaretz reported.

The news of the cancellation follows conflicting reports on Saturday regarding whether or not the ceremony would take place. Palestinian Authority Director of Border Crossings Nathmi Muhanna announced that the ceremony would take place, but a Palestinian Foreign Ministry source later denied it.

The dispute over this issue, which erupted about a week ago, is weighing heavily on Rutte's impending visit to Israel, the Haaretz report said.

Rutte is slated to arrive Sunday, and is expected to ask Israel to reconsider its position on the scanner when he meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday night.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, who will accompany Rutte, is similarly expected to raise the issue of exports from Gaza at his meeting with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.

The dispute began last week, when the Dutch Foreign Ministry asked Israel's ambassador to The Hague to forward a request that Jerusalem take advantage of the new scanner to permit the resumption of goods exports from Gaza to the West Bank, according to the report.

The Dutch ambassador to Israel made a similar request of the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

A senior Israeli Foreign Ministry official said the Dutch request surprised Jerusalem, coming as it did on relatively short notice. Nevertheless, the ministry passed it on to Ya'alon's office. After a brief discussion, Israel decided to reject the request.

Defense Ministry officials explained that for security reasons, Israel wants to isolate the West Bank from the Gaza Strip, and allowing goods from the Strip into the West Bank would contradict this policy.

Dutch officials countered that the new machine was supposed to provide a solution to Israel's security concerns about Gazan exports. Nevertheless, the Defense Ministry remained adamant.

Israel's refusal infuriated the Dutch government, which informed Jerusalem that if so, Rutte intended to cancel the gala ceremony at the Kerem Shalom border crossing.

The Dutch Foreign Ministry confirmed the details of this report, saying the main purpose of the new scanner was to enable the resumption of exports from Gaza to the West Bank, as well as to Europe and the rest of the world, by providing a solution for Israel's legitimate security concerns.

"The container scanner at the Kerem Shalom crossing will potentially facilitate and ease the exports of products from Gaza to markets in the West Bank, Europe and internationally in a way that addresses Israel’s legitimate security concerns," the ministry said in a statement.

"It is in place and ready to use. The Dutch Government strongly feels that positive, practical measures are needed to stimulate the ailing Gazan economy and to alleviate the worsening humanitarian situation for the people in Gaza."

"We were given to understand that the accompanying easing of export procedures that we would like to see in this regard, are subject of unfinished internal policy deliberations by various parties, including the government of Israel with whom this issue has been discussed on various occasions, at different levels," the statement added.

The Gaza Strip has been under a severe economic blockade imposed by Israel since 2006.

The blockade has severely limited the imports and exports of the Gaza Strip and has led to frequent humanitarian crises and hardship for Gazans.
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