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Israel Reopens Critical Gaza Border Crossing


Israel has reopened the main commercial border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel. Israeli officials say the crossing was reopened for humanitarian reasons after warnings that a food crisis could develop in Gaza.

The Karni crossing has been closed, intermittently, since late January, after Israel said it received warnings of a terrorist threat against the crossing and Palestinian authorities discovered a tunnel near the crossing, that led from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory. Karni has been completely closed since February 21.

Palestinian Authority Deputy Minister of Economics Nasser Saraj warned Wednesday that critical food items such as flour are in short supply in the Gaza Strip and that panic could grow in the area as a result of the closure. Israeli officials, such as Mark Regev, the spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry say the crossing was closed for legitimate security reasons.

"We are interested in having the crossing opening, functioning and running. It is in our interest that people goods and produce go in and out of Gaza as freely as possible. A good situation in Gaza is good for Israel. No one wants to see hardship in Gaza. No one wants to see hardship," said Regev. "Everyone wants to see the situation in Palestinian-controlled Gaza improve. The crossing was closed only because there was a specific security threat against the crossing -- a terrorist threat to attack the crossing once it was opening; to attack the officials and the security personnel around the crossing."

Karni is the main transshipment point for goods in and out of Gaza and the closure of the crossing has had a devastating impact on commerce in Gaza. A report from the U.S. Agency for International Development, leaked to the Reuters news agency this week, says the closing of the crossing costs Palestinians nearly $450,000 a day in lost revenue.

Many Palestinians say the crossing was closed by Israel as retaliation for Palestinians voting to give Hamas a majority in Palestinian parliamentary elections in January - something Israeli officials strongly deny.

"We all know this has nothing to do with security. This is a passage between Gaza and Israel," said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator in talks with Israelis. "This is a humanitarian livelihood for Palestinians, this is the food supply, and I believe this is collective punishment. I think to have this collective punishment, to stop food and medical supplies, including milk, is a form of collective punishment which is completely unacceptable."

In November, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brokered a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians to allow 150 trucks to pass through the Gaza / Israel Karni crossing on a daily basis, as well as allowing regular bus convoys between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. However, a World Bank report, released this week, says there has been no sustained improvement in the movement of goods across Karni since Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip last year.

The intermittant closure of the Karni crossing comes as Israel has increased the number of roadblocks and barricades in the West Bank by 25 percent, since last year. Israeli officials say the closures and roadblocks are in response to a recent upsurge in individual attacks by Palestinians against Israelis. A United Nations report on the issue says the travel restrictions have made it difficult for farmers to transport their produce and have prevented people from obtaining medical services and visiting relatives in the West Bank.