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It's just over two months since the Islamist militants of Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip. And since then, Israeli troops have maintained a tight blockade. Food and other humanitarian goods are allowed to enter the territory, but virtually nothing else gets in and no Palestinian exports are allowed out. The U.N. warns that the Gaza economy is now on the verge of collapse.
NPR's Linda Gradstein has been touring the perimeter of Gaza visiting the crossing points with Israel and she sent this report.
LINDA GRADSTEIN: Kerem Shalom is the newest crossing between Israel and Gaza. Built at the point where the borders of Israel, Gaza and Egypt intersect, it was originally meant to be an Israeli alternative to the nearby Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. But Palestinians traveling to and from Egypt refused to use a crossing under Israeli control. And since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, Kerem Shalom has become a transit point for food and international aid shipments to Gaza.
Abraham Benlulu(ph) has brought five trucks of dairy products to this crossing today. Three of them come from Palestinian dairies in the West Bank, two from Israel. He's running a bit behind schedule. The Palestinian mortar attack on the crossing kept it closed for more than an hour.
Mr. ABRAHAM BENLULU (Trader): (Through translator) Look, this is how we make a living, and we understand the population there. We've worked with Palestinian dealers for years and the innocent people over there in Gaza shouldn't suffer.
GRADSTEIN: Captain Shadi Yassin is the spokesman for the Coordination and Liaison office, the Israeli military agency that deals with civilian aspects of the Gaza border. He says Israel wants as many goods to enter Gaza as possible. But Palestinian gunmen make that difficult.
Captain SHADI YASSIN (Spokesman, Israel's Coordination and Liaison Administration): We transfer goods and humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people in Gaza and yet the Hamas is firing mortars on this terminal. Who said there's no export from Gaza? There is an export from Gaza - mortars and Qassams.
GRADSTEIN: In fact, attacks on Israel from Gaza are down since Hamas seized control of the territory in June. In the past two months, there have been about 120 Qassam rockets and mortar shells fired into Israel. In May, there were 300. Israeli officials insist the attacks must end completely and they say they will continue to target rocket-launching squads in Gaza until they do. This week, Israeli troops killed 13 Palestinians, two of them children, in a series of incursions and air strikes in Gaza.
The Kerem Shalom crossing can only handle about 40 trucks a day, so most of the Israeli exports to Gaza now go through the Sufa crossing a few miles north. Sufa was originally used only for gravel shipments to Gaza, and large piles of sand and gravel still dock the area. Security here just across from the Gaza town of Khan Yunis is even tighter than at Kerem Shalom. A long line of Israeli trucks waits in the baking sun, allowed one at a time into the Israeli side of the crossing. There they are checked before entering a large fenced-off areas surrounded by Israeli watchtowers. The goods are unloaded and the Israeli trucks leave.
Captain Yassin explains what happens next.
Capt. YASSIN: At 3 o'clock afternoon, the Israeli gate is closed. The Palestinian gate from the other side with the Palestinians' trucks waiting over there in the same lane like we saw when we entered over here - and the Palestinian truck is going in and the goods are loaded and inside to Gaza.
GRADSTEIN: It's clear that the facilities at Sufa are not sufficient to handle the volume of traffic now passing through the checkpoint. Some goods have spoiled in the intense heat before they could be transferred to the Palestinian side. Palestinian authorities want to reopen the much larger Karni crossing, 20 miles farther north, which has equipment and facilities to handle hundreds of trucks a day.
But Peter Lerner of Israel's Coordination and Liaison Administration says it's not likely that Karni will be reopened anytime soon.
Mr. PETER LERNER (Israel's Coordination and Liaison Administration): Today, the biggest problem for Israel in regard to the Gaza Strip is the fact that there's nobody on the other side to coordinate with and to work with. Karni crossing is closed because the whole concept of this crossing is cooperation and coordination.
GRADSTEIN: Until the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the presidential guard of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was responsible for security on the Palestinian side of Karni. Hamas leaders say they are prepared to fulfill that role now. But Israel will not deal with Hamas until it recognizes Israel and renounces violence.
Linda Gradstein, NPR News, on the Gaza border.
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