The Gaza Strip, the most crowded place on earth, home to 1.2 million Palestinian people, and mainly dependent on outside food supplies, is facing a severe food crisis as Israeli authorities continue to keep the Karni crossing completely closed indefinitely. Farmers, in protest, dumped produce that had spoiled from waiting so long at the border.
The Karni crossing, a trade-only border crossing between Israel and Gaza, is the main lifeline for food supplies to enter the Gaza Strip. After pleas from the United Nations for Israel to open the crossing to allow food to get to the desperate and hungry population, Israeli authorities had agreed to open the crossing Thursday, but changed their minds at the last minute.
According to Israel Radio, the Israeli military had been expected to reopen the commercial terminal following mounting international pressure and warnings that food supplies in the Strip were dwindling and likely to run out, but Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz decided to keep the Karni crossing closed despite earlier promises to open it.
David Shearer, head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, warned that humanitarian conditions have deteriorated since Hamas’s Jan. 25 Palestinian election victory, in part because of Israel’s closure of the main crossing into Gaza at Karni and other security measures, and the ongoing closure will only make the situation worse.
"This is getting to precarious levels," Shearer said in an interview with Reuters.
Israel, which has long viewed the United Nations as pro-Palestinian, said the increase in restrictions was due to an "enhanced terrorist threat" and not a response to the election victory of Hamas Islamic militants.
Israel has halted tax revenue transfers to the Palestinian Authority and has asked donor nations to cease providing aid to the Palestinian people, in order to pressure Hamas to renounce violence, recognise the Jewish state, and abide by interim peace deals. Top advisor to the acting Israeli Prime Minister said cynically that the measures were to "put Palestinians on a diet."
According to Shearer, sugar stocks will begin to run out in Gaza in as little as two or three days unless Karni is reopened. Sugar prices have risen by more than 25 percent because of Israel’s frequent closure of the crossing point, Shearer said.
Supplies of wheat flour to make bread, Gaza’s main staple, will likewise begin to run out in as little as four days unless truckloads of wheat are let in, Shearer said.
Although Israel ‘disengaged’ from a 38-year military rule of the Gaza Strip last year, Israeli forces have the borders of Gaza surrounded by electrified fences, and control all access points for bringing goods in and out of the territory, citing security concerns. People are not allowed to enter or leave the Gaza Strip, except in extremely rare circumstances where special permission is granted by the Israeli government. Many observers have called the Gaza Strip "the largest open-air prison on earth".
Shortages in Gaza have become so acute that aid programs are starting to be affected, said Arnold Vercken, the Gaza and West Bank representative for the World Food Programme, which delivers wheat flour to 146,000 Gazans.
"For the time being, we are on hold," Vercken said.
Israel closed Karni for 21 days between Jan. 15 and Feb 5, Shearer’s office said in a report issued on Tuesday.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said Karni was closed again on Feb 21 after a mysterious explosion in the area. It has remained closed since then because of "continued security alerts", the spokeswoman said.
Vercken said even though the daily flow of basic commodities into Gaza has stopped, "we’re not talking famine" because many households in Gaza have private stocks of wheat flour that could last them a month or longer.
But with dwindling supplies and prices on the rise, poorer Gazans will be hardest hit, he said.
Vercken said wheat mills in Gaza normally try to keep on hand between 26,000 tonnes and 30,000 tonnes of wheat — two months’ supply — but are now down to their last 1,200 tons of wheat.
*report taken mainly from Adam Entous – Reuters