By IBRAHIM BARZAK, Associated Press WriterTue Mar 7, 2:31 PM ET
Israel’s security closure of Gaza’s main cargo crossing has hit the coastal strip hard: milk and cheese have virtually disappeared, fruit is hard to find, and flour is running out.
The shortages could get worse for the 1.3 million residents of Gaza once Hamas formally takes power, with Israel threatening to seal its borders with Gaza altogether once the Islamic militants form a government.
“The world should look at this and find us a solution,” said Mustafa Shurab of the Palestinian Mill Co. “Collective punishment is a small word to describe this war.”
Shurab said his company supplies about 60 percent of Gaza’s flour. But with the Karni cargo crossing closed, his reserves are running out. He said the mill halted work three days ago, and if the crossing isn’t reopened, Gaza will run out of bread this week.
Karni is critical for the Palestinian economy. It is the only conduit for Palestinian exports to Israel and overseas markets, and provides the main gateway for goods entering Gaza.
There are no overt signs of hunger in Gaza. But with the area reliant on Israel for dairy products, some fruits and other supplies, the on-and-off closure of Karni for nearly two months has become increasingly painful.
“People are coming and asking for cheese, for milk, and my answer is, ‘Sorry, there is nothing left,'” said Hussam Aboud, a grocer in Gaza City, pointing to an empty refrigerator.
Sami Abu Daoud said he went to nine supermarkets Tuesday in a futile search for low-fat milk. The price of regular milk for his children has doubled, he said.
“You can’t find an apple in the Gaza Strip,” Daoud said. “I don’t know why they are doing this. For political reasons? Security reasons? For what?”
Israeli officials say the closure is strictly because of security concerns.
“This is nothing punitive,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev. He said Israel has identified a “definite and specific threat at the crossing” and is eager to reopen Karni. Palestinian militants have targeted the crossing in the past, killing six Israelis in a January 2005 attack.
“We have every reason to want Karni to be open. We understand fully that the movement of food and produce in and out of Gaza is essential,” Regev said.
Israeli officials first closed the crossing in January, citing security threats. Palestinian officials subsequently discovered a tunnel nearby and said they sealed it.
Palestinians believe the closure is retribution for Hamas’ victory in January legislative elections and say the Israeli government is trying to look tough ahead of Israeli elections this month.
“Israel is using the iron fist policy against our people because of the Israeli election,” said Mazen Sonnoqrot, the Palestinian minister for economic affairs. “Our people have to pay a political price for the coming Israeli election.”
Boosting cargo traffic through Karni was a key aspect of an agreement brokered by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last November, an accord meant to give momentum to peace efforts after Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip.
The World Bank issued a report this week saying the agreement has not been fully implemented, largely due to “complex, haphazard and inefficient” procedures at Karni. It said traffic through the border is far below levels envisioned in the deal, and that Karni has become a “serious physical barrier to Palestinian trade.”
The crossing has been open for just 12 days since Jan. 10, according to Palestinian records.
Further closures could lie ahead. Israel, backed by the United States and the European Union, has said it will have no ties with a Hamas-led government unless the group renounces violence, recognizes Israel and accepts past peace agreements.
Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, has rejected calls to moderate. The group is expected to form its Cabinet in coming weeks.
Israeli security officials this week confirmed they have drawn up proposals to reduce contacts with the Palestinians. The plan, to be formally presented after the March 28 election, would turn the Gaza crossing into an international border and allow the Palestinians to build air and seaports. The Palestinians would then no longer be able to ship through Israeli ports and crossings.
Source: AP via Yahoo! News