karni crossing 298 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Fearing Palestinian flour shortages in the Gaza Strip, Israel on Thursday unilaterally reopened the Karni crossing, which had been shut since Hamas's violent takeover of the strip two weeks ago, solely for the transfer of this one critical food item.
Defense officials said that a specially-designed wheat chute that transfers grain from one side to the other was activated for a few hours in the morning as part of a test run. Eleven trucks transferred their loads from Israel to the other side, where Palestinian flour mill owners waited with trucks to receive the wheat.
In total, some 480 tons of wheat were moved into Gaza through a chute ordinarily used to transfer massive amounts of gravel - a system that required no opening of the terminal. Officials said that due to the shortages in Gaza, only three out of the six flour mills there were operating.
Karni has been closed for technical and security reasons since the Fatah forces which had manned the crossing ran away from Hamas. In lieu of this main commercial crossing, the IDF has been using the Kerem Shalom and Sufa crossings to transfer emergency goods into Gaza. But it was unable to bring a high enough volume of wheat into Gaza to satisfy the population's needs.
Afraid that Palestinians in Gaza would be left without bread, officials said that Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yosef Mishlav ordered the Defense Ministry's Crossings Directorate to come up with ideas on how to transfer wheat into Gaza.
Karni, officials said, was the crossing capable of transferring the greatest amounts of wheat into Gaza.
The officials said that the transfer on Thursday was done on a trial basis and that Karni was still far from being completely reopened. Palestinian terror groups have repeatedly targeted Karni in the past.
Still, now that the trial run was successful Israel plans to continue the wheat transfer, according to Shlomo Dror, the spokesman for the coordinator of government activities in the territories.
The United Nations has called on Israel to reopen Karni completely so that the crippled Palestinian economy won't be further destroyed. Even before the takeover, the economic situation had become so bad that it was handing out basic food supplies of flour, rice, sugar, beans and powdered milk to 1.1 million of the 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza.
But with few exceptions, such as the transfer of flower bulbs for greenhouses in Rafah, Israel has kept is focus in the last two weeks on insuring that basic foods needs are met. It addition it has allowed for the transfer of animal feed for the livestock in Gaza.
In the long run, Israel and the Palestinian Authority are discussing the possibility of moving the main crossing point for goods and produce from the Karni crossing in the northern Gaza Strip to the Kerem Shalom crossing at the Egyptian-Israeli Gaza border.
The idea for moving the central crossing was raised at Monday's Sharm e-Sheikh summit. Government officials said that the issue was among those being discussed between Israeli defense representatives and PA security officials in follow-up discussions to Monday's summit. But Dror said that Kerem Shalom would need to be physically expanded before it could operate at the same capacity as Karni.
In a report released on Thursday, the UN said that the transfer of goods at Kerem Shalom was also more time consuming because it has to be loaded and unloaded from trucks rather than a direct back-to-back transfer.
According to the UN, an average of 200 trucks a day passed through Karni before it was closed. Since Sunday, while relying on Kerem Shalom and Sufa, Israel has facilitated the passage of more than 70 trucks a day, at times reaching as close as 100.
The UN said that to meet it basic food supply it needs to see 120 trucks a day enter Gaza. Aside from Karni, Rafah, which borders Gaza and Egypt, has been totally closed and Erez has been open for limited pedestrian traffic.
In its report, the UN said there were some 5,000 people waiting to leave Gaza through Rafah. It also that given that no building materials had been allowed into Gaza, the United Nations was in the process of suspending much of its construction work on roads, schools and houses.