Israel reopened the main crossing for commerce and goods into the Gaza Strip on Tuesday. The crossing had been briefly opened on Monday but then closed again. Israeli officials say security threats dictate whether or not the crossing will remain open or not.
Truckloads of basic foodstuffs such as rice, flour and cooking oil rolled through the Karni crossing on Tuesday. The crossing point has been closed for 50 days since January, despite an agreement brokered by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last year to keep it open. Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry says security problems at the crossing have kept it closed for much of this year.
"No one on the Israeli side wants to see shortages inside Gaza," said Regev. "Unfortunately over the last weeks, we have been forced to keep Karni closed because of a specific and direct threat against the crossing."
U.N. officials who provide food aid to more than half of the estimated 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip say shortages of all essential food commodities have developed because Karni has been closed for so long. They say that opening the crossing for short periods of time means that only ten percent of essential goods are getting through - not enough, they say, to meet the needs of Gaza's population.
"It means that we are not even catching up with today's needs," said John Ging, the director of the Gaza office of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). "This morning, I found that the wheat is flowing in but that no commercial containers are being allowed in. Palliated goods are moving slowly. So as I say it is a very meager effort and if it does not open up to its full commercial capacity we will continue on this steady decline towards a humanitarian crisis."
Palestinian officials are warning of an increase in violence in Gaza if acute food shortages develop.
U.N. officials say Israeli authorities understand the need to avoid a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and that they believe Israel is working to find a solution that will address the security needs of Israelis and the humanitarian needs of Palestinians.