Israeli restrictions blamed as Pepsi factory closes in Gaza

Jerusalem has eased movement of some goods in and out of Strip following last month’s fighting, but plant manager says ban on carbon dioxide and syrup forced layoff of 250 workers

A Palestinian employee walks at the Pepsi bottling plant in Gaza City, June 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
A Palestinian employee walks at the Pepsi bottling plant in Gaza City, June 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

New Israeli restrictions on imports to the Gaza Strip following an 11-day round of fighting last month have reportedly forced the the enclave’s Pepsi beverage factory to close down.

Jerusalem tightened its restrictions on products entering Gaza, after terror groups launched thousands of rockets at Israeli cities even though the import of materials used to make the projectiles had been banned.

That includes a ban on carbon dioxide and syrup, which are necessary to produce Pepsi, 7UP and Mirinda soda, forcing the factory to halt operations, Pepsi Gaza development manager Hammam Alyazji said Monday.

“Yesterday, we completely ran out of raw materials, and unfortunately we had to shut down the factory, sending home 250 workers,” he said, according to the Reuters news agency.

“The raw materials have not been allowed. We have been waiting for them for 60 days,” Alyazji said.

Instead, the company will import ready-made products from its factory in the West Bank.

The factory has been operating since 1961, and Alyazji said the “catastrophic” shutdown disrupted plans to celebrate its 60th anniversary.

Reuters cited unnamed analysts assessing that additional factories in Gaza could be forced to close down if the current situation persists.

Illustrative: Smoke rises following Israeli missile strikes on Gaza City on May 13, 2021. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), a Israeli Defense Ministry body that liaises with the Palestinians, commented that “due to the security situation, the import of industrial raw materials from the State of Israel into the Gaza Strip is not possible.”

COGAT added that fuel, food, medicine and medical equipment were being allowed into Gaza.

The Israeli government on Monday relaxed some restrictions on goods and mail entering and leaving the Gaza Strip, loosening the tight ban that was in place since last month’s round of fighting.

Agricultural goods will be allowed for export to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and overseas, but not to Israel. However, textiles will be allowed into Israel following a specific request from an Israeli textile company that works with suppliers in Gaza, the officials said. The goods will be allowed through the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Saleh al-Ziq, a senior Gaza-based official in the Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Commission, said Gazans stuck abroad since the 11-day escalation of violence between Israel and the Hamas terror group, which started May 10, would now be allowed to reenter the enclave via the Erez Crossing from Israel.

Exports of clothing and food to Israel and the West Bank will also recommence, he said.

A truck loaded with humanitarian aid passes into Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, through the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza from Israel, on May 21, 2021, after a ceasefire brokered by Egypt between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas terror group. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The easing comes as Israel and the Gaza Strip have seen continued tensions. Gaza-based terror groups have launched explosive balloons into Israeli territory, igniting large tracts of land in areas close to the Strip, and Israel has responded with airstrikes against Hamas targets.

While a ceasefire between the two sides ended the fighting in late May, international mediators have warned that it remains fragile, and have said that they seek to strengthen it. United Nations peace process envoy Tor Wennesland “is continuing his diplomatic engagements with all sides towards that aim,” a UN spokesperson said last week.

Israel and Egypt have blockaded the coastal enclave since 2006, imposing tight restrictions on the movement of people and goods. Both countries say the blockade aims to mitigate the security threat posed by Hamas.

Rights groups lament the impact the restrictions have had on Gaza’s civilian population. The tight sanctions have led to high unemployment and crumbling infrastructure, and bureaucratic entanglements can make leaving the Strip through its Israeli and Egyptian crossings a very difficult task.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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