(photo credit: REUTERS)
Half of all the trucks transporting goods to the Gaza Strip will be rerouted from the Kerem Shalom Crossing to the Erez Crossing, sources close to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Monday.
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.
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.
Since then, the transport of goods occurred solely at Kerem Shalom, which was not designed as a large commercial crossing.
Shai Grunberg, a spokeswoman for the NGO Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, said the decision to allow commercial goods through Erez was important because it would make the transport of goods easier and cheaper.
But some sources have speculated that Erez cannot handle such a large flow of goods and that the announcement was purely a cosmetic gesture designed to help the state with legal cases before the High Court of Justice.
Changing Gaza policy is politically sensitive in Israel, as Hamas, while holding fire, remains openly hostile.
Therefore, the announcement was kept low-key.
Regional powers Egypt and Turkey also have a close interest in what happens in the Gaza Strip. Egypt, which has the only other border with the territory, has helped Israel control the flow of goods, deeming Hamas a threat. Turkey has said that improving relations with Israel was contingent upon the blockade ending.
Gaza is home to 1.95 million Palestinians, 80 percent of whom are dependent on aid, according to the United Nations. Economists say the current levels of imports have been enough to maintain basic living standards, but not to generate recovery, and unemployment has spiraled from 28% to 43% since the 2014 war.
“Gaza needs cement, all kinds and sizes of lumber, raw chemicals, iron for metalworks, all of which have ceased completely,” said Mahed Al-Tabbaa, a Palestinian economist. “What counts is whether Israel will allow the banned goods to enter Gaza, not an increase in the number of trucks carrying the already permitted list of goods.”
At the start of April, Israel temporarily suspended the delivery of cement to Gaza’s private sector to rebuild destroyed homes after it discovered that Hamas was siphoning off the material and using it for tunnels.
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories would not confirm or deny media reports that these shipments are about to be resumed. Grunberg said that to date, the suspension of cement deliveries to the private sector in Gaza was still in place.Reuters contributed to this report.