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ISRAEL-OPT: Gaza squeezed by steady decline in imports, closure threats
Palestinian patients waiting at Erez Crossing in order to enter Israel for medical treatment. Due to tight Israeli restrictions, many patients are unable to pass or have great difficulties doing so, limiting their access to needed care
JERUSALEM, 3 October 2007 (IRIN) - The UN has expressed renewed concern over the state of the Gaza Strip's border crossings, saying that, if realised, the Israeli threat of increased restrictions would most likely lead to a humanitarian crisis in the impoverished enclave.
"In the last three months, the arrival of 106 truckloads of supplies per working day has ensured that there has not been a humanitarian crisis among the Gazan population. This could not be guaranteed with increased restrictions on the border crossings," a recent statement by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.
These truckloads contained mostly food products and other basic supplies, like soap and nappies.
However, before the mid-June internecine violence which culminated in Hamas seizing full control over the Gaza Strip, some 238 lorries were allowed into Gaza each day. Many of those lorries carried basic supplies, but also raw materials which are now banned.
Overall, some 3,190 trucks made it across during July, which was the highest of the last three months, compared to 5,814 in April.
Furthermore, statistics show a worrying decline recently even in the amount of basic supplies.
In the first week of July, for example, 774 commercial trucks and 61 trucks belonging to humanitarian organisations made it into Gaza. During the last week of the month 754 commercial and 138 humanitarian trucks got through.
However, the first week of September saw only 531 commercial and 33 humanitarian shipments, while in the last week, until 25 September, just 182 commercial trucks and five humanitarian loads arrived, UN figures showed. Reasons for reduced flow of goods
Observers say the drop is related to a number of factors, including increased poverty in the Gaza Strip which has affected purchasing power, fewer working hours due to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as well as increased closures of the main crossings.
The restrictions are Israeli-imposed either due to the recent and ongoing Jewish holidays or because of mortar attacks on the crossings by Palestinian militants from inside Gaza.
"We can do very little when the crossings are fired on daily," said one Israeli defence establishment official. The concern over mortar attacks was bolstered by specific threats Israeli intelligence gathered regarding planned militant action, he said.
"The noose is tightening around Gaza," a humanitarian aid worker in the enclave told IRIN. Effect on students, patients
The border crossings also mean an effective ban on travel, except for a few hundred people allowed out. Hundreds of students who study abroad are unable to leave the enclave, for example.
The Israeli High Court recently refused to intervene in the case of Khaled Mudallal, who studies in the UK. He was represented by Gisha, an Israeli human rights group.
Patients who need to travel to Israel or Egypt for medical care, due to the limited capacity of Gaza's health system, are also affected and many have difficulties or cannot receive the care they need.
The decrease in the influx of foodstuffs is taking its toll: the Strip is running low on fresh meat and oil while wheat prices are steadily rising.
The ban on imports of non-essentials, and on exports, means Gaza's business sector is on the brink of collapse, but also affects needed humanitarian supplies, like filters for drinking water and pumps, as well as spare parts for vehicles.
"There is an immediate need for better efforts by all sides to increase the flow of supplies to at least basic humanitarian levels and to ensure that the crossings remain open so as many supplies as possible can get in," said Kirstie Campbell of the World Food Programme in the occupied Palestinian territories.
"The one and half million people in Gaza need more than what's getting in right now."