karni crossing 298 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Operations at the Gaza Strip's only cargo crossing have been extended by at least five hours a day for a trial period following an Israeli-Palestinian agreement to expand traffic at the vital passage, officials said Wednesday.
Israel has frequently closed the Karni crossing over the past year following the victory of Hamas in Palestinian elections and the capture of IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Schalit by Hamas-linked operatives. Israel has cited security concerns for the frequent closures, which have taken a heavy toll on Gaza's economy.
In talks to jumpstart peace efforts, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has promised Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to ease restrictions on the Palestinians.
Speaking at a closed meeting of a Knesset committee Wednesday, Olmert said operating hours had already been extended until 11 p.m. In the past, the crossing has operated until 6 p.m., when it was open.
Palestinian officials confirmed that the extended hours began on a trial basis this week, and expressed hope it would become permanent.
"The movement was good in both ways," said Nazmi Muhana, the Palestinian official responsible for the crossing.
Movement across Gaza's borders was the crux of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement brokered by the United States after Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005. But repeated closures and security threats have choked the traffic and the agreement.
Improving traffic through Karni has been one of the major rallying points for the two sides, and the US government has pledged $16 million to upgrade the crossing.
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