A dispute between Hamas and Fatah over a Palestinian trucking company halted the flow of goods at the Kerem Shalom crossing – Gaza’s main commercial artery – leaving 70 trucks stranded on the Israeli side on Monday, according to Israeli and Palestinian sources.

It is hoped that the crossing will be open for the transport of goods on Tuesday.

Israel had planned to open the crossing Monday, after closing it for six days to protest the Palestinian-launched rocket from Gaza that landed near Ashkelon on February 25.

But on Monday, Hamas asked the Palestinian company, which transports the goods from Kerem Shalom into Gaza, not to show up at the crossing, according to Israeli security sources. The company complied.

According to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), it is the first time that Hamas has closed the crossing for this reason.

Technically, Israel and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah jointly operate the crossing, and make all formal decisions with respect to the passageway through separate land crossing authorities; this includes choosing a trucking company to transport goods in and out of the sterile area at Kerem Shalom.

According to Israeli security sources Hamas has unsuccessfully tried to exact a higher tax fee from the contractor, who to date has refused to cede to that demand.

Israeli security sources added that Hamas is trying to replace the Palestinian contractor with one that will be under their control and pay a higher fee.

The PA chose the trucking company that now operates at the crossing.

Hamas wants to make up for revenues it has lost now that Egypt is closing the tunnels for smuggled goods into Gaza, Israeli security sources said.

According to COGAT, “Hamas has been actively trying to push the Palestinian Authority out and take charge of the management of Kerem Shalom, so that they may collect revenue from goods that enter Gaza.” It warned that Hamas’s actions endangered the crossing’s security and operation.

Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.- Gen. Eitan Dangot spoke Monday morning with senior PA officials and explained to them that the situation was not viable.

PA Civil Affairs Minister Hussein a- Sheikh said the civil society in Gaza also intervened in the situation to help ensure that the crossing would open on Tuesday.

The issue, he said, is one of control.

Hamas wants to use a trucking company that it can influence and would be accountable to it rather than an independent private company, Sheikh said.

But, he said, it was the PA which had the ultimate say here. “We will not bow down to Hamas,” he added.

Sari Bashi, executive director of Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, charged that both Israel and Hamas were exacting “collective punishment” on the people of Gaza: Israel because of the rockets and Hamas because of the trucking company.

“We are concerned that both governments are restricting movement and the people of Gaza are paying the price,” Bashi said.

Hamas, however, on Monday blamed the situation on Israel and said that the Hamas-run Ministry of Economy was looking to reduce the cost of delivering goods to Gaza.

Hatem Uwaidah, a senior official with the ministry, said Israel has refused to lower the cost of transporting goods or discuss other proposals to facilitate the work at the border crossing.

“For the past five years, we have been trying to solve the issue of the high cost of the fees, which are unrealistic,” he said.

Uwaidah demanded the publication of a tender to select a private company that would replace the present one and be in charge of transporting merchandise at the border crossing.

Israeli security sources said that Uwaidah statements were untrue, noting that Hamas was not involved in the technical or diplomatic operations of the crossing. The sources added that Israel dealt only with the PA on the issue of the crossings.

Sheikh added that Hamas was not trying to lower the crossing fees – it was trying to raise them, by adding in extra costs.

Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.

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