Karni Crossing (used for goods entering and exiting the Gaza Strip) was open on a more regular basis throughout the second half of April 2006. However, Erez crossing (for workers and traders entering Israel) has now remained closed for nearly two months. All humanitarian supplies arriving from Egypt into the Gaza Strip via Kerem Shalom have now been received.
In the last week the number of Palestinian homemade (Qassam) rockets and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) artillery shelling and Israel Air Force (IAF) missile strikes declined significantly. Previously between 28 March and 22 April a total of 126 Palestinian homemade rockets were fired towards Israel. The IDF fired 4,144 artillery shells and the IAF launched 36 rockets into north and eastern Gaza.1 During this period, 21 Palestinians were killed and 68 injured, the majority of casualties being Palestinian militants targeted by the IAF in air to ground attacks.
Unexploded ordnance (UXO) is becoming a serious concern in the border areas. Two members of the Palestinian National Security Forces were killed on 2 May while attempting to disarm an unexploded artillery shell in eastern Jabalia.
There are consistent reports throughout the Gaza Strip of shops and supermarkets suspending credit to PA employees in the expectation that they will no longer have the regular salaries to meet repayments. PA employees make up 37% of Gazan’s workforce and have not been paid for two months. The Palestinian Ministry of Health (MoH) is reporting shortages of particular medicines due to its inability to replenish stocks due to lack of funds.
Karni Crossing, the largest crossing point for commercial supplies into the Gaza strip, re-opened on 30 April – albeit for imports only – after being closed from 26 April when a vehicle carrying explosives was intercepted by Palestinian security forces as it approached the crossing.
As of 2 May, Karni Crossing has been closed 57 days in 2006 (47% of the year).2 The crossing has been subject to periodic closure by the Israeli authorities since January 2006 on the grounds of security concerns. The extent of the recent closures is unprecedented when compared to a closure of 18% of the year in 2005 and 19% in 2004.
Imports at Karni Crossing
During April on the days that Karni Crossing was open an average of 139 truckloads entered the Gaza Strip and 5 truckloads a day were exported on the days that the crossing was opened.
The more frequent opening times in April have ensured supply of sugar, rice, wheat flour as well as processed food, fruit and vegetables in the Gaza Strip. However, imports are only covering immediate needs and have not significantly altered stock levels. These supplies reached a low point between 17 and 19 March when most bakeries closed and rationing was introduced at those few bakeries that remained open.
Exports at Karni Crossing
During the period of opening between 17 and 26 April, an average of seven truckloads per day of fruit and vegetables were exported from the Gaza Strip. During the previous period that exports were permitted through Karni Crossing (from 26 March to 3 April) an average of 22 daily truckloads left the Gaza Strip for Israel and overseas markets.
Since the most recent reopening on 30 April, no exports have been permitted to cross.
The Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) that was reached on 15 November 2005 between the PA and the Government of Israel called for 150 truckloads of exported goods to be processed daily through Karni Crossing by 31 December 2005, rising to 400 daily by the end of 2006.
The small number of daily trucks leaving the Gaza Strip has resulted in large revenue losses since January 2006.
The Palestine Economic Development Company (PEDC) was established prior to the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip and in August 2005 began to utilise the former greenhouses in the evacuated settlements. These were seen as offering economic potential for the continued cultivation of specific agricultural produce – cherry tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and strawberries – destined for Israeli and European markets.
Between 1 January and 20 April, more than 8,400 metric tonnes (MT) of produce had been harvested in the greenhouses. Of this, only 1,500 MT has been exported. The remainder has been distributed to PEDC’s 4,100 employees, donated to local hospitals and societies or else been destroyed. “Dumping” produce on the local market has not been an option for fears of further deflating prices for other producers. Total losses incurred by the PEDC now exceed US$ 8.5 million.
The AMA made specific reference to agricultural exports: “…On an urgent basis, Israel will permit the export of all agricultural products from Gaza during this 2005 harvest season…and will facilitate its speedy exit and onward movement so that quality and freshness can be maintained.
Israel will ensure the continued opportunity to export”
Further, article 3.13 of the Agreement noted that “…some 75 trucks per day of agricultural exports need to be processed, without delays, during the 2005/6 Gaza agricultural season”.
The Future of PEDC is now being questioned
With the 2005-06 season now drawing to a close, the PEDC is currently examining its options for next year given that the situation many not get any better next year. Movement of exports via Rafah (and onwards via Port Said) may be considered if an agreement can be reached with the Egyptian authorities.
The uncertainty is also experienced by the majority of Gazan producers reliant on the export market. It is likely to be compounded by a lack of local purchasing power with the non-payment of PA salaries.
Based on exported truckload movement before the closures were imposed this year, Palestine Trade Center (PalTrade) estimated total export losses ranging from $5-600,000 per day, or more than $30 million since the beginning of 2006.
Kerem Shalom on the Gaza-Israel-Egyptian border has been open for humanitarian assistance originating from Egypt since 22 March with the final truckloads of flour, sugar and rice received in Gaza on 26 April.
Due to continuing difficulties in getting wheat flour supplies in, and empty containers out of Karni, the World Food Programme (WFP) started importing wheat through Kerem Shalom on 1 May. In spite of the difficulties encountered at Karni, WFP was still able to deliver 3,334 MT of food commodities into the Gaza Strip during April.
Erez crossing has now been closed for the movement of workers and traders into Israel since the Jewish holiday of Purim on 12 March. There is no indication when it will reopen.
Rafah passenger terminal continues to operate under the supervision of the EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) with hundreds of passengers crossing daily between Gaza and Sinai.
1 Palestinian DCO.
2 This does not include partial closure days, such as days with limited opening hours and/or days in which the crossing was only open in one direction.
3 The higher daily import figures include aggregate gravel for construction projects.