.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Report: Hamas taking over Kerem Shalom crossing

From YNet:

Hamas will take control over one of the most important crossings connecting Israel and the Gaza Strip:

The organization's government in Gaza has notified Nahed Shuhaiber, the concessionaire who operates the Kerem Shalom crossing from the Palestinian side, that his responsibilities are being rescinded and that starting Monday morning, the new concessionaire will be Muhisan Sharafi. Monday morning, 70 trucks stood at the crossing waiting to bring goods into the Strip.

Because Shuhaiber operated the crossing on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and for this reason, Israel agreed for years to cooperate but Israel has also made a fundamental decision that the government and the defense establishment do not work opposite any Hamas-related entity.

In the past six days, the Kerem Shalom crossing has been closed for the entrance of goods to the Gaza Strip as a response to the rocket that fell on Ashkelon last week and the shots fired on the car of the Gaza Division's Northern Brigade from the Strip on Friday.

Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Major-General Eitan Dangot announced on Sunday that the crossing will be opened on Monday morning, but it seems that Hamas is planning on disrupting the resumption of activity there.

It is estimated that the PA's disagreement with the Hamas government in Gaza's unilateral decision, will cause the crossing to remain closed since there will be no trucks or contractors at the site to receive the goods from the Israeli side.

Palestinians estimate that 400 trucks full of goods will reach the crossing on Monday morning, a larger quantity than usual because of the fact that it has been closed over the past few days.

The Palestinian crossings administration updated Dangot regarding Hamas' decision and clarified in talks with senior PA officials, that Israel sees this move as an upset of the security-related status quo at the crossing, causing a situation in which Hamas and not the PA, is operating the crossing.

Dagnot explained to officials in the PA that working with a new concessionaire without coordination constitutes a security risk.

In light of the conflict, Egyptian officials placed heavy pressure on the Palestinians so that activities resume on Monday morning at the crossing.

Hamas made this decision in light of their new demand that the concessionaire pay a toll of NIS 170 (about $46) for every truck that enters the Strip. The reason for this toll stems from the loss of profits from taxation from the smuggling tunnels which were mostly destroyed over the past few weeks as a result of intensive Egyptian activity.

Palestinian sources in Rafah told Ynet that Egypt is not only destroying the tunnels intended for weapons smuggling, but also tunnels intended for the smuggling of goods and fuel – which prompted a rise in costs for various products in the Strip on the one hand, and to a significant reduction of income for the government in Gaza on the other.
The Fatah-leaning Palestine Press Agency reports this more as an excuse for Hamas to increase profits at the crossing, and not as a takeover by Hamas. It quotes Hamas official Ziad Zaza as saying that this is merely an attempt to open up the Kerem Shalom concession to competition, and Hamas has no plans to take it over; moreover, that Hamas isn't interested in directly controlling a crossing that Israel is involved with, presumably because Hamas doesn't want to appear to publicly speak to Israelis. Then again, if the previous concessionaire was considered to be working for the PA from Israel's perspective then this may still disrupt the operations there.

We will see in the coming hours whether the trucks make it through the crossing.

Meanwhile, after months of promises, several trucks of building materials have been starting to enter Gaza from Egypt via the Rafah crossing.