Israel mulls over opening Rafah for supplies

Exclusive: Officials say move would help ease int'l pressure; IDF: Hamas blocked trucks carrying fuel.

Rafah guard 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Rafah guard 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The IDF is considering a proposal to allow the Palestinians to open the Rafah crossing to facilitate the transfer of supplies from Egypt to the Gaza Strip, because opening Rafah would ease pressure on Israeli-run crossings that have recently come under an increasing number of terror attacks, defense officials said over the weekend. The Rafah crossing has mostly been closed since Hamas's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last June, except for a handful of days when Egypt opened the crossing to allow Palestinians to return to Gaza. While the crossing is mainly used as a border terminal, there is a gate that can facilitate the movement of trucks filled with supplies from Egypt to Gaza. Officials said that the Defense Ministry and the IDF were weighing a proposal to open the Rafah crossing strictly for supplies - and not for people - to help ease international pressure on Israel to open its crossings, which are attacked almost daily by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. "This option exists and is being considered," a top defense official told The Jerusalem Post. "While the attacks continue against the Israeli crossings, Rafah can serve as an alternative artery to provide for the people of Gaza." Two weeks ago, four Islamic Jihad terrorists infiltrated the Nahal Oz fuel depot and killed two Israelis. Last Thursday, an infiltration into Kerem Shalom was foiled and last Saturday, Hamas infiltrated two car bombs - packed with 300 kilograms worth of explosives each - detonated inside the crossing. Egypt is interested in opening the crossing to allow goods through since it is concerned that if the blockade on Gaza continues, Hamas will bring down the border wall between the two sides of Rafah and storm the Sinai Desert, like it did in January. While Israel is considering the proposal, some defense officials have raised concerns that the trucks carrying supplies into Gaza via Rafah will also be carrying weaponry and explosives. While news of the proposal came amid Egyptian efforts to obtain a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip, Israeli defense officials said that the two were not connected. Meanwhile on Saturday UNRWA suspended it shipment of food supplies to civilians in the Gaza Strip, because it lacked diesel fuel for its trucks. A spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, Adnan Abu Hasna, said 700,000 Palestinians won't be getting packages of staple foods because the agency could not bring in new shipments or distribute them without fuel for its vehicles. "All of our regular food operations have stopped because of the fuel shortage," he said. In response, Col. Nir Press, commander of the IDF's Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) said that Israel has transferred large quantities of fuel via the Nahal Oz depot, but that the fuel has sat in tankers since the Palestinians have not come to collect it. Press said that while UNRWA was in need of 100,000 liters of diesel fuel and 20,000 liters of gasoline, there was over 1 million liters of fuel sitting in tankers on the Palestinian side of the depot. On Thursday, he said, a Palestinian truck drew fuel from the tankers on behalf of UNRWA, but was blocked by a crowd of Palestinians as it tried to make its way back from the depot. "Unfortunately, we are witness again and again [to] how Hamas tries to create a humanitarian crisis by attacking the fuel and supply crossings and by preventing the distribution of fuel," Press said. John Ging, who heads the UNRWA Gaza operations, told The Jerusalem Post that Palestinian farmers and fisherman, desperate for the fuel, had stopped the Gaza Petrol and Gas Station Owners Association from handing the fuel over to UNRWA. He said he was hopeful that Israel would allow fuel into Gaza through Nahal Oz, so it could resume its deliveries of basic food supplies. On Friday, Robert Serry, the UN's special coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said that Israel had promised to allow the delivery of an additional 100,000 liters of diesel fuel. All parties should avert further suffering of the civilian population, Serry said, adding that Hamas should stop its attacks at the Gaza crossings and ensure the distribution of supplies. At the same time, he said, Israel must restore adequate supplies of diesel and benzene for Gaza's civilian population. Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report