At just before 1pm today a suspect vehicle reportedly carrying explosives was apprehended by Palestinian security forces in close proximity to Karni terminal. Karni has now been closed and staff ordered to leave the crossing as investigations take place.
As of 26 April, Karni crossing has been closed 55 days in 2006 (47% of the year). The crossing has been subject to periodic closure by the Israeli authorities since January 2006 on the grounds of security concerns. The extent of the recent closures is unprecedented when compared to a closure of 18% of the year in 2005 and 19% in 2004.
Before the closure today, Karni crossing had been open for nine consecutive working days since 17 April, allowing the continuation of much needed basic commodities to enter the Gaza Strip. While exports also resumed on 17 April, the number of truckloads allowed through since has been minimal with an average of only six truckloads a day. The low number of exported goods has had a significant impact on the local Gazan economy since the start of this year.
Imports/Exports at Karni crossing
So far this month, a total of 3,017 imported truckloads and 99 exported truckloads have been processed through Karni crossing, a daily average of 137 and 4.5 truckloads a day respectively. (See figure 1).
In this last period, between 17 and 24 April, an average of 247 daily truckloads of supplies (excluding building materials) entered the Gaza Strip from Israel. These supplies have replenished depleted stocks of sugar, rice, wheat flour as well as processed food, fruit and vegetables in the Gaza Strip, stocks that reached a low point between 17 and 19 March when rationing was introduced at those few bakeries that remained open.
In the same period, an average of 6 truckloads per day of fruit and vegetables were exported from the Gaza Strip. During the previous period that exports were permitted through Karni crossing (from 26 March to 3 April) an average of 22 daily truckloads left the Gaza Strip for Israel and overseas markets.
The Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) that was reached on 15 November 2005 called for the number of exported daily truckloads to be processed through Karni crossing to reach 150 by 31 December 2005, rising to 400 daily by the end of 2006.
The small number of daily trucks leaving the Gaza Strip has resulted in large revenue losses since January 2006.
The Palestine Economic Development Company (PEDC) was established prior to the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip that began in August 2005 to utilize the former greenhouses in the evacuated settlements. These were seen as offering economic potential for the continued cultivation of specific agricultural produce – cherry tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and strawberries – destined for Israeli and European markets.
Between 1 January and 20 April, more than 8,400 tonnes of produce had been harvested in the greenhouses. Of this, only 1,500 tonnes has been exported. The remainder has been distributed to PEDC’s 4,100 employees, donated to local hospitals and societies or else been destroyed. “Dumping” produce on the local market has not been a serious option for fear of further deflating prices for other producers. Total losses incurred by the PEDC now exceed US$ 8.5 million.
The AMA made specific reference to agricultural exports: “…On an urgent basis, Israel will permit the export of all agricultural products from Gaza during this 2005 harvest season…and will facilitate its speedy exit and onward movement so that quality and freshness can be maintained. Israel will ensure the continued opportunity to export”. (p6)
Further, article 3.13 of the Agreement noted that “…some 75 trucks per day of agricultural exports need to be processed, without delays, during the 2005/6 Gaza agricultural season”.
The inability of agricultural producers to get no more than six truckloads through Karni crossing on a daily basis in recent weeks explains the large losses.
With the 2005-06 season now drawing to a close, the PEDC is currently reexamining the level of investment to be taken for next year. The PEDC acknowledges the severe difficulties that it has experienced this year with no guarantees that the situation at Karni crossing will be any better next year. Movement of exports via Rafah (and onwards via Port Said) may be considered if an agreement can be reached with the Egyptian authorities.
The inability to plan ahead is felt not just by PEDC but the majority of Gazan producers reliant on the export market. Such business uncertainty has serious implications for the Gazan economy, not least when it is still unclear whether over 150,000 public officials will be paid in the months ahead and therefore have money to purchase local produce or not. Based on exported truckload movement before the closures were imposed this year, Palestine Trade Center (PalTrade) estimated total export losses ranging from $5-600.000, or more than $30 million since the beginning of 2006.
Figure 1: Karni crossing – Imported/Exported Truckloads
Humanitarian assistance through Kerem Shalom crossing
Kerem Shalom on the Gaza-Israel-Egyptian border has been open for humanitarian assistance originating from Egypt since 22 March and has remained open throughout most of April.
By 24 April, 298 trucks of flour, sugar and rice had been received in the Gaza Strip with the Rafah terminal authorities estimating that all assistance pledged from Egypt will have been received by the end of today.