Tovah Lazaroff
The Jerusalem Post
June 25, 2010 - 12:00am

The IDF plans to increase the number of truckloads into Gaza by over 200 percent; a move which will bring it close to pre-blockade levels, according to the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories.

Israeli and Palestinian activists have warned that evaluating Israel’s closure policy simply by counting the number of truckloads is misleading. What is significant is the type of goods and their route of passage; an issue, which makes the difference between a meaningful and meaningless increase, they have said.

But the IDF’s slate of new gestures, which comes in the wake of Sunday’s Security Cabinet decision to ease the Gaza blockade, won Israel rare praise from the United Nations on Thursday.

Maxwell Gaylard, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Jerusalem told The Jerusalem Post, “Israel has issued a policy change, the extent of which will not be known for a few weeks. But it looks as if it will be significant.”

A COGAT spokesman said that at issue are two crossings for goods into Gaza – Kerem Shalom and Karni.

Before Israel closed the passages in 2007 after the Hamas coup, Karni, which has been called the ”economic life-line of Gaza,” served as the main crossing point for goods and raw industrial material. It was designed to handle a mass flow of goods.

Since the closure, however, only grain, animal feed and gravel have passed through the crossing.

All other goods have gone through Kerem Shalom, which was originally designated as a minor crossing point. Since the summer of 2007 it has been the major one.

Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement said that prior to the closure some 10,400 truckloads a month – 500 a day – entered Gaza; primarily through Karni. COGAT said it was more on the order of 8,000 a month or 400 a day.

Both COGAT and Gisha estimate that some 2,500 truckloads a month entered Gaza in the last year of the closure, which is between 20 to 25 percent of the pre-blockade level of goods. This meant that about 100 truckloads or less went into Gaza from Kerem Shalom per day. Immediately after the cabinet decision capacity for the crossing was increased to 130. Within a matter of weeks, said COGAT, that number will increase to 250.

Under the blockade, Karni was open only one or two days a week, but placed on a daily model, 25 trucks went in each day. Within a number of weeks that number will increase to 130 a day, according to the COGAT spokesman.

He said commercial goods would continue to go through Kerem Shalom and that for security reasons Karni’s elevated capacity would be limited to the three types of goods which enter now; grain, animal feed and gravel. Overall, he said, 380 truckloads a day would enter Gaza under the new plan. It’s more than a 200% increase from the 125 a day which had entered before Sunday’s cabinet decision.

It was unclear, he said, what what if any kind of raw industrial material would be allowed into Gaza. He added that cement would only be permitted for construction projects under the auspices of an international organization or institution such as the UN.

The spokesman said that all the crossings are being evaluated. Outside of Kerem Shalom and Karni, these including the minor goods crossing at Sufa and the fuel depot at Nahal Oz, both of which are closed, and the Erez Crossing, which has been open for limited pedestrian traffic.

Gisha Executive-Director Sari Bashi said that unless Karni was fully reopened, or a suitable alternative was created, it would be impossible to revitalize Gaza’s economy.

Karni is a cheaper option and Kerem Shalom cannot handle the flow of goods necessary for Gaza’s factories to function.

The numbers of truckloads are also misleading because they include fuel, which used to go through Nahal Oz, or were never part of the quantity calculations done at either crossings before the closures, said Bashi.

In addition, she noted, no provision was made for exports.

The number of truckloads is still much lower than what is needed, she added.

A spokeswoman for the Palestine Trade Center in Ramallah said the issue was not how many trucks but rather what was on them. There are enough consumer goods in Gaza; what is needed are materials so that factories can reopen, she said.

Gaylard said he believed that the IDF plan was an initial step toward a system of improvements.

”The UN has made it clear that Israel’s security concerns are important, but we think the blockade should be lifted,” he said and added that he believed Israel was in the process of doing that.

Gaylard added that he believed the policy would be fully clarified in the coming weeks.

Still, he said, it would take time before all the goods Gaza needed for a fully functional economy would be able to enter the area.


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