Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Second crossing opened to allow relief aid to Gaza

From the AP

Second crossing opened to allow relief aid to Gaza

Israel, under international pressure to alleviate a shortage of staples and relief supplies in the Gaza Strip, Wednesday opened a second crossing - Kerem Shalom - to allow humanitarian aid, mostly food and drugs, from Egypt into Gaza, the Israeli and Palestinian border authorities said.

A total of 180 Egyptian trucks are expected to enter Gaza today. The first one, carrying flower, passed through the crossing at 11:15.IDF officials said that Palestinians would also be able to send exports through the newly opened Kerem Shalom crossing on Wednesday, but the border officials did not immediately confirm this.

On Tuesday, a total of 131 trucks passed through the main Karni crossing into the Strip.The main crossings of the Gaza Strip have been closed for much of this year, causing food shortages in Gaza and great losses to Palestinian merchants and farmers who cannot export their products. The shortages also sparked sharp price hikes for hard-pressed Gazans.

At the urging of the United States, Israel Monday opened the largest crossing, Karni, to allow food into the area, but was not yet allowing cargo to come out of Gaza.Israeli businessmen who distribute textile products manufactured in Gaza have lobbied the government to allow cargo to enter Israel, saying that the closure of the crossings has cost their industry millions of shekels.

Egypt is sending the Palestinians 7,000 tons of food, mostly wheat, rice and sugar through Kerem Shalom, said Salim Abu Safiah, director-general of the Palestinian border authority.

The Israeli side of Kerem Shalom opened Wednesday morning, but the Palestinian side was not expected to be open until noon, and then the Egyptian cargo could enter, the Israeli border authority said. At Karni, 200 trucks were slated Wednesday to pass into Gaza, the authority said.

The United States had pressed Israel to open the crossings during a meeting Sunday of Israeli, Palestinian and American officials. Israel has kept the crossings closed on and off since mid-January over concerns Palestinian militants are planning attacks there.

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