The Gaza 'diet' begins
The ongoing closure of the al-Mintar (aka Karni) crossing, the main route for both commercial and humanitarian supplies into Gaza, has resulted in an estimated loss of some $10.5 million, and the depletion of Gaza's main food staples, according to a report by the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humantarian Affairs (OCHA).
The crossing, considered to be Gaza's commercial lifeline, was shut down unilaterally by Israel for 21 days in January, before Hamas came to power, and again on 21 February, despite promises in a border and access agreement, that was brokered by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, not do so.
Wheat grain stocks are dwindling as a result, and flour mills in Gaza have shut down, with residents having to rely on their home supplies. In the impoverished Strip, the overwhelming majority of residents bake their own bread.
In addition, the UN and the World Food Programme warned that sugar, which has increased in price at least 25% since the closure, as well as cooking oil, would run out in two days.
Last week, prime ministerial adviser Dov Weisglass was quoted as saying at a meeting that the idea behind the closure policy was "to put the Palestinians on a diet but not make them die of hunger."
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has decided the crossing will remain closed on Thursday, despite earlier promises to open it indefinitely to "humanitarian aid" for Palestinian residents. In addition to serving as an export and import hub for merchandise, fruits, and vegetables-many of which are in peak season now and beginning to rot- medicines, vaccines, and kidney dialysis wash are also transported through al-Mintar.
The Israeli army initially said the Gaza closure was due to "security threats" to the border, citing concerns that tunnels were being dug under the crossing and of the transfer of avian flu.
No such tunnels were ever found, and health officials have dismissed fears of bird flu spreading, saying "it knows no boundaries." Further, there has been no evidence yet of infections in Gaza, and Israeli has prevented the entry of reagents to detect the virus.
Israel has been trying to pressure the PA to accept Kerem Sharom crossing as an alternative crossing, a proposal Mahmud Abbas rejected today. According to a senior Palestinain official responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Access and Movement Agreement brokered by Condoleezza Rice, only 4-8 cargo trucks would be allowed through the alternative crossing. The Rice agreement spoke about over 160 trucks a day, though even before the closure, only 60 trucks were allowed to transport goods through Karni. The agreement also talked about Kerem Shalom as a parallel border-not a substitute which would allow Israel exercise complete control and the ability to shut down al-Mintar/Karni at its leisure.
The UN report also said that that Israel remains responsible, as an occupying power for ensuring public order and the health and welfare of the Palestinian population.
"International humanitarian agencies do not have the capacity to take over the running of PA services , even if the security situation allowed. Humanitarian assistance from the international community does not relieve Israel of this responsibility."
OCHA director David Sheere said that the humanitarian situation has already seen a sharp deterioration since last months' legislative elections due to tightened Israeli control, adding that the situation will only get worse if aid is withheld.
"We were concerned that the PA might not be able to pay salaries and that will have an enormous impact, the fact that approximately 1 million people will not have a breadwinner, and what the implications might be if around 70, 000 armed security forces are not receiving any money in an area where 65% of the population is already under the poverty line."