First commercial shipment of goods since Hamas takeover heads into Gaza

Some one million flower bulbs, the first commercial shipment of goods to enter Gaza since Hamas took over, have made their way to greenhouses in Rafah over the last two days, Israeli officials said. It was a joint effort of the Israeli and Dutch governments, Shlomo Dror, coordinator of government activities in the territories, told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday. The bulbs, part of an overall 3.5 million shipment, had to go in now or the farmers were in danger of losing a season of growth, Dror added. Aside from the bulbs, Israel has focused on securing the flow of humanitarian assistance into the beleaguered area given that the main commercial passageway at Karni has been closed since June 12 when Hamas took over Gaza. Technical and security issues have kept Israel from opening Karni. The crossing at Rafah, which borders Egypt and Gaza has also been closed since the takeover. The crossing at Erez has only been open for limited pedestrian traffic and medical emergencies. On June 19, Israel opened a secondary passage for goods at Kerem Shalom. It closed briefly on June 23 after a mortar attack, but has been open since then despite continued attacks on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Dror. Israel also opened an additional secondary passage at Sufa on June 22, which has remained in operation throughout the week. On Wednesday, according to the UN and Israel, close to 100 trucks of staples, including milk, chlorine and animal feed entered Gaza through these passages. "Our operations are proceeding in spite of the difficult situation," said Kevin Kennedy, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territories. 1.1 million of the 1.4 million people in Gaza are dependent on basic staples of flour, rice, sugar, lentils and powdered milk that are handed out to them by the United Nations. But even as the UN is relieved that it has been able to avert a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, it has expressed concern over the continued closure of Karni and the impact that this has on the crippled Gaza economy. "We do not want to increase an aid dependency situation in Gaza," said Kennedy. A report released by the UN's World Food Programme showed that supplies were still low in Gaza, with wheat stockpiled for only 9 days, sugar for 3, rice for 15 and oil for 14. According to the report, food supplies in stores are scarce, in part because wealthier people in Gaza are buying them up to stockpile at home. The report also said that prices of staples have risen dramatically. The price of flour is 34 percent higher than it was a month ago, powdered milk has risen by 30% and rice by 20%.