Palestinian fishermen in the waters off of the Gaza Strip.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A former army commander is promoting an ambitious new plan that would boost the number of goods entering the Gaza Strip.
Yom Tov Samia, who served as the IDF’s Southern Command chief from 2001 to 2003, told Radio 101.5 FM on Tuesday that the Israeli authorities should permit the Palestinian Authority to operate a terminal at Ashdod port that would serve as the docking point where ships could unload goods bound for the Gaza Strip.
The Fatah-ruled PA has no foothold in Gaza, which is run by its bitter rival, the Islamist group Hamas.
Samia broached the topic in response to the announcement by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Monday that half of all the trucks transporting goods to the Gaza Strip will be rerouted from the Kerem Shalom Crossing to the Erez Crossing.
The decision to allow trucks through the Erez terminal was taken in recognition that the truce that ended the 2014 war against Hamas was holding, an Israeli official said. Israel halted commercial traffic through Erez in 2000 after the second intifada erupted. Only passenger transit has been allowed since.
At present there are only three crossings into the Gaza Strip, two from Israel and one, the Rafah Crossing, from Egypt. At one time, Israel operated a large commercial crossing called Karni, and a smaller one called Sufa, but they were both closed for security reasons after Hamas took control of Gaza in a bloody 2007 coup.
Samia says that while the move is a step in the right direction, the government should think bigger.
“I’d go much farther than just the Erez Crossing,” the former general told 101.5FM. “I would give the Palestinian Authority a terminal at Ashdod port. They would operate it fully from A to Z. They would handle all the logistics, the customs, the finances, the taxation, the revenue, the loading and unloading of cargo, and expenses.”
“Israel would handle full responsibility for security checks for a period of a number of years,” Samia said. “This would be part of an overall plan, a comprehensive Israeli initiative.”
“We need to do something,” he said. “We can’t just sit there and do nothing.”
Some 800 trucks enter Gaza daily. Now half of them will travel through the northern part of the strip, by way of Yad Mordechai, rather than the southern tip.
Ya’alon’s decision will take time to be implemented, a source stressed, adding that the opening of Erez to trucks would reduce pressure on local roads and on the Kerem Shalom Crossing.
“It is in our interest for large quantities of trucks carrying goods to continue to move into Gaza. We have an interest in the Gazans living with dignity, both on the human level and because it helps preserve quiet alongside the security deterrence that exists,” a security source said.
The opening of Erez to vehicle traffic will dramatically decrease the level of traffic around Kerem Shalom, shortening the route and easing conditions on Route 232, which leads to Kerem Shalom.
MK Haim Jelin (Yesh Atid), former head of the Eshkol Regional Council, welcomed the decision, saying it would save lives. He said that some 1,000 trucks pass through Route 232 en route to Kerem Shalom and Gaza on a daily basis, adding that opening Erez would significantly decrease the numbers of trucks driving on the narrow road.Yaakov Lappin and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.