PA asks Israel for additional Gaza border crossing

Existing transfer points can handle only up to 450 trucks of construction materials daily — far less than Gaza needs to rebuild, Palestinians say

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Trucks carrying fuel for the Gaza Strip enter Rafah through the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and the southern Gaza Strip on March 16, 2014. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)
Trucks carrying fuel for the Gaza Strip enter Rafah through the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and the southern Gaza Strip on March 16, 2014. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

The Palestinian Authority has asked Israel to open a new terminal for transferring goods from Israel into Gaza, senior Palestinian sources told The Times of Israel.

Gaza’s need for construction materials in the wake of the summer war between Israel and Hamas was too great and too urgent to depend on the Kerem Shalom crossing alone, the sources said.

The existing crossing can only handle 450 trucks per day. Israel has agreed to expand the crossing so it will be able to handle 700 trucks, but the PA is asking for a second crossing to further expand Gaza’s import capacity.

The new crossing could be located either at the now-shuttered Sufa crossing, or in the former Erez industrial zone on the Israel-Gaza border, which was home to joint Israeli-Gazan businesses in quieter times and which is currently unequipped for inspecting and letting through large vehicles but does serve as a crossing for people.

Israel has not yet responded to the request, the Palestinians said.

Palestinian officials also say the UN is nearing completion of its preparations for establishing an oversight mechanism for construction materials let into the Strip for Gaza’s reconstruction. The mechanism will employ hundreds of local and foreign workers, and will allow the UN to hire overseas companies to help in the oversight.

The Palestinian Authority has prepared a list of dozens of Gaza merchants eligible to receive the materials, and cameras have been installed in their businesses to allow close tracking of the materials and the identity of those who purchase them.

The call for a new crossing comes as Israel and Egypt both sealed their borders with the Gaza Strip in recent days in response to a rocket fired into Israel and a suicide bombing of Egyptian troops in Sinai that killed 31 soldiers last week that Egypt said was tied to the Hamas rulers of Gaza.

On Sunday, a senior Hamas official rapped Israel for closing the crossings.

“This is irresponsible behavior and contrary to the understandings reached at the beginning of the ceasefire,” said Moussa Abu Marzouk, who was part of the Palestinian negotiating team in Cairo during the summer conflict.

An Israeli army spokeswoman said that “the crossing points for people and goods, Erez and Kerem Shalom, have been closed until further notice except for humanitarian aid.”

She added that the measure was taken after a rocket fired from Gaza hit the Eshkol area of southern Israel on Friday, without causing any casualties or damage. It was the first rocket to strike Israeli territory from Gaza since September 16, and the second since the end of the 50-day war in late August.

Last Saturday, even before the crossings were closed, senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar criticized Israel for allegedly delaying the entry of construction materials into Gaza and warned that if the rehabilitation process in the Palestinian enclave does not speed up and become more efficient, the situation in the Strip may “erupt.”

While Israel has eased restrictions on the flow of goods and construction materials into Gaza, a scheduled summit for indirect negotiations on ceasefire details was delayed last week by Egypt in the aftermath of the deadly Sinai attack.

Egypt reportedly discovered that the attackers trained in Gaza before entering the Sinai Peninsula via smuggling tunnels, prompting Cairo to close its borders with the coastal enclave and begin construction on a buffer zone. Egypt embarked on a major campaign last year to destroy smuggling tunnels between Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula, but reportedly has discovered hundreds more recently using satellite imagery.

Spencer Ho, AFP and Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report.

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