Israel crossing open to Gaza as Palestinians face shortages in basic goods

Ahram Online, Sunday 22 Sep 2013

Israeli crossing allows transportation of construction materials to Gaza while Rafah crossing remains closed

Rafah border
Egyptian Army soldiers guard the gates (Photo: Reuters)

Israel began to allow construction materials to be transported to Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing on Sunday for the first time since it imposed a blockade on the Palestinian territory in 2007.

Gaza, home to 1.7 million Palestinians, has been suffering from a shortage of construction materials since the recent intermittent closing of the Rafah crossing and the destruction of many of the tunnels by the Egyptian government, which were used regularly to smuggle materials previously.

A report issued by the Office for the Coordination of Human affairs (OCHA - A United Nations organisation) last Thursday showed that construction materials (mostly cement) transported from Egypt to Gaza fell by 96% (from 7,500 tonnes to 300) following June 2013.

The fall in goods has included strategic commodities like fuel, which declined by 70% (from one million litres to 300,000) resulting in extended electricity blackouts reaching 16 hours per day in some areas of Gaza.

Overall, the volume of goods entering Gaza via the tunnels has decreased by more than 85% (from 200 truckloads to 30) following June 2013.

This is in the wake of the destruction of many of the tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip and Sinai, leaving only ten operating compared to 300 before June 2013.

The tunnels were demolished as part of the Egyptian authorities' efforts to counter illegal activities and insecurity in the Sinai, according to the OCHA report.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority's ambassador to Egypt is “taking all possible measures” to resolve the Rafah border crisis, Palestinian political movement Fatah said on Sunday.

Tensions have been on the rise between Hamas leaders and the Egyptian government, with the latter repeatedly accusing Hamas of interfering in its internal affairs to support ousted president Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Last week, Hamas sought to ease tensions by ordering Islamic preachers to mute their criticism of the Egyptian government over what has been dubbed by several preachers as a 'coup' to oust Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

Hamas also denied accusations made by the Egyptian army's spokesman who recently said hand grenades bearing the stamp of the Palestinian Islamist group’s military wing were found in Sinai.

With the boarders closed, more than 5,000 people, including students planning to study in Cairo and beyond, as well as patients seeking treatment in Egypt, are stranded in Gaza awaiting permission to cross.

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