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13 September 2007
ISRAEL-OPT: Rocket attacks from Gaza hampering aid deliveries, Israel says
JERUSALEM, 13 September 2007 (IRIN) - Palestinian militant groups' rocket fire and mortar attacks on crossing points between the Gaza Strip and Israel are forcing the temporary closure of crossing points and thus restricting the delivery of aid and basic supplies, according to the Israeli government.
"If there are several volleys of fire, we cannot keep the crossing point open. There can be 200 people working at Kerem Shalom Crossing, we need to safeguard them," said Shlomo Dror from Israel's Ministry of Defence.
This can lead to closures lasting several hours or an entire day, he said.
According to officials of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Kerem Shalom, for example, was closed for four entire days in August.
Officials within the Israeli military said every week crossings are closed due to attacks from Gaza. The military's main offices for coordination near the Erez Crossing were also targeted several times.
Since the Islamist group Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June, the border crossings have only been open for importing basic goods, such as food and medicine. All exports are banned, forcing most factories in Gaza to close, as 76 percent of their products were intended for sale abroad, according to Amer Hamad, the executive manager of the Palestinian Federation of Industries in Gaza.
Israel says it cannot coordinate the crossings with Hamas, which does not recognize the Jewish state.
"The economy here is about to collapse," Hamad told IRIN. "More than 90 percent of factory jobs have been lost since June."
Observers and Israeli security officials attribute the drop in imports of food supplies into Gaza in August, compared to July, to both the deteriorating economy - which has left Palestinians in the already impoverished territory with even less buying power - and the attacks on the crossings, which limit their opening hours.
"I don't believe Israel needs an excuse to close the crossings. But we still have our role. We in the business community are against firing rockets from locations near factories or near the crossings or attacks on the crossings themselves," Hamad said.
A major concern is that sustained attacks on two crossings, Sufa and Kerem Shalom, which are used for bringing in humanitarian supplies, might lead to their prolonged closure.
Even if Sufa alone were to close, "the implications would be extremely severe because Kerem Shalom doesn't have the capacity to meet the basic needs of Gaza," said Kirstie Campbell of the World Food Programme (WFP) in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Another issue is the financial aspect. Due to the closure of the main Karni Crossing, the WFP is obliged to use Sufa, which doubles their costs. When Sufa is closed, they must use Kerem Shalom, which triples their expenses.
"We in the business community are against firing rockets from locations near factories or near the crossings or attacks on the crossings themselves."
If the crossings remain closed for an entire day, the WFP, and other organisations such as UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, must pay storage fees and additional transportation fees.
The World Health Organization recently said that it takes about one week for two trucks with its medicines to arrive in Gaza, as a result of the closures.
However, Hamas officials support the rocket attacks.
"Israel is not really closing the crossings because of [the rockets]. They don't need an excuse to attack the Palestinian people," Fawzi Barhoum of Hamas told IRIN. The rocket attacks were part of the "legitimate resistance", he said.
He blamed the Gaza crisis on the international boycott of Hamas.
Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks, as it is de facto ruler of the strip, regardless of who actually fires the rockets.
Dror said that Israel would find ways to get basic supplies into Gaza, even if the crossings are closed. Aid workers noted this as a positive change in Israeli policy, as the state used to be less concerned about finding alternatives to ensure the delivery of such goods.