Joseph Krauss
Agence France Presse (AFP)
June 23, 2008 - 2:59pm

Dozens of Palestinian lorry drivers waited to load their goods in the scorching sun as Israel started to ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip on Sunday.

The decision to increase the amount of humanitarian goods allowed into the besieged territory came after an Egyptian-mediated truce between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement held for a fourth day.

More than 50 empty trucks lined the road on the Gaza side of the Sufa crossing as Israeli hauliers unloaded goods on the other side. Many of the drivers said they had been waiting for more than 24 hours.

"We are told there is a ceasefire and the blockade will be lifted, but so far nothing," said fruit trader Hani Abu Shanab, 40, who sought refuge from the relentless sun under his truck, where he played backgammon with a friend.

"There's been no shooting for days, but still nothing has come in," he said.

Israeli authorities had pledged to gradually ease the restrictions from Sunday as part of the truce with Hamas, which seized power in Gaza a year ago.

They said that during the day a total of 90 trucks laden with goods would pass through the Sufa crossing on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip.

The crossing has been used mainly for humanitarian supplies since Israel imposed crippling sanctions on Gaza after the Hamas takeover a year ago. Israeli officials said around 60 trucks were allowed in daily before the truce.

But the crossing is ill-equipped for large shipments of food and the process of delivering badly needed supplies into the impoverished coastal strip is painfully slow.

Israeli trucks drive up to the border and unload the goods in an open area, leaving them under the sweltering summer sun. Once they leave, the Gaza truckers are then allowed to enter the crossing to pick up their merchandise.

"The problem is the sun. The sun is going to ruin everything -- the fish, the fruit, the milk for the babies," said Abu Shanab, who grew increasingly frustrated as the hours passed and the heat kept rising.

On an average trip he says he loses about 3,000 shekels (850 dollars) as part of his shipment spoils in the sun.

The crippling embargo has taken a heavy toll on the 1.5 million population of Gaza, the majority of whom now depend on foreign aid.

Abu Shanab's family is no exception -- three of his sons will be unable to marry any time soon "because they don't have work or materials to build their own place," he said. "They all still sleep in one room."

Many Gazans hope the truce will allow them to once again import building materials and industrial goods that could resurrect the local economy.

"When they stopped allowing in building materials and things for the factories all of Gaza went to sleep. There is no work," Talib said as he sipped tea in the back of his rig, waiting to pick up a shipment of wholesale food.

"They have to let the important things in. No one is benefiting from this stuff but the Israeli merchants," he said.

In mid-afternoon, a shout went up from the crowd of truckers as their engines roared to life -- the Gaza side of the border had just opened.

The Israelis said the restrictions were also eased at the Karni crossing farther north, where a conveyor belt that carries corn, animal feed and coffee will now open six days a week instead of only three.

Military spokesman Peter Lerner said the truck terminal at Karni, which before the Israeli lockdown was used for the great majority of Gaza's commercial imports, could reopen later "depending on the security situation."


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