Israel opens Gaza's Erez border after 9-year blockade

The opening of the Erez crossing, on Gaza's northeastern tip, followed demands by the Palestinian Authority to tackle Gaza's need for new vehicles.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

A Palestinian man walks past vehicles upon arrival at Erez crossing between Israel and northern Gaza Strip on July 13, 2016.

Updated Jul 14, 2016

Israel opened a second crossing into Gaza on Wednesday to allow the transfer of vehicles carrying goods for the first time since 2007, when the Palestinian group Hamas seized control of the enclave, officials said.

Palestinian border officials at the Erez crossing said Israeli authorities allowed the import of eight buses and three trucks, while another shipment of cars will be allowed a day later on July 14.

An association of Palestinian vehicle owners in Gaza said 110 vehicles arrived on their side through the Erez border crosing.

Also a spokesman for COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry body responsible for implementing government policies in the Palestinian territories, confirmed vehicles had entered Gaza using the Erez crossing.

"This measure has been taken to facilitate the work of Palestinian importers and thus help the economy of the Gaza Strip," the spokesman told AFP.

The opening of the Erez terminal, on Gaza's northeastern tip, followed demands by the Palestinian Authority to tackle Gaza's need for new vehicles.

Palestinians check vehicles upon arrival at Erez crossing between Israel and northern Gaza Strip on July 13, 2016.

Israel currently allows vehicles through its controlled Kerem Shalom crossing, the only crossing point currently handling commercial traffic with Gaza.

According to Mohammad al-Maqadma, Media Director at the Gazan Civil Affairs Department, the move comes as part of continued efforts by the Palestinian civil affairs agency to improve the lives of people of Gaza.

Maqadma said the Palestinian Authority continues to demand Israel opens more crossings with Gaza to allow the entry of all kinds of goods.

Majed Abu Elba, an owner of a bus company in Gaza, praised the Erez crossing opening and said the shipment was part of an order of 50 buses being imported to Gaza by a number of Palestinian companies.

"This is a very good step and a quantum leap that we have been waiting for almost 10 years, that cars or buses can enter the crossing at Erez, which is better than Abu Salem crossing," said Abu Elba.

The entrance of the Israeli border terminal between southern Israeli city of Erez and the northern part of the Gaza Strip, on April 14, 2015.

But Gaza City resident Hussam al-Sayyed said that the move was not enough to ease the problems in Gaza.

"As a start, it is a very good step, but we say that it is not enough to solve the crises of Gaza, not just one crisis, there are many Gaza crises, through other steps like reconstruction and ending the blockade," al-Sayyed said.

Israel claims its blockade prevents the movement of militants and stops construction materials that could be used by Hamas to make bunkers and tunnels.

Palestinians say they are under siege and are unable to rebuild homes destroyed by Israeli bombings.

A Palestinian man reacts as he inspects the site of an Israeli air strike in the northern Gaza Strip on July 2, 2016.

According to the World Bank and the UN, the blockade has killed virtually all exports from Gaza, as well as bringing the economy of the small enclave to the brink.

Israel halted commercial traffic through Erez in 2000, after a Palestinian uprising erupted, and only passengers transit has been allowed since.

Regional powers Egypt and Turkey also have a close interest in what happens in Gaza.

Egypt, which has the only other border with Gaza, has helped Israel maintain the blockade, deeming Hamas a threat.

Turkey has long said improving relations with Israel is dependent on the blockade ending.

Located in the northern Gaza Strip, Erez is nearer to major Israeli cities than Kerem Shalom and could make bringing goods from Israeli port cities such as Ashdod easier.

Members of the press film the Panama-flagged Lady Leyla (C), a Turkish ship carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, as it enters Ashdod port, in southern Israel on July 3, 2016.

Turkey and Israel agreed to normalise their relations after a six year lull following a deadly raid on a Turkish aid flotilla by Israel in 2010.

According to the deal, Turkey's aid to Gaza will be channelled through Ashdod rather than sending it directly to the Palestinian enclave which could also help persuade Israel to open a second crossing.

Turkey has long insisted on a demand that Israel lifts its blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, which was one of its conditions to be met for normalising relations.  

Palestinians unload Turkish aid shipments upon arrival in the Gaza Strip at Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and southern Gaza Strip on July 4, 2016.

Wedged between Egypt, Israel and the Mediterranean, Gaza is home to 1.95 million Palestinians, 80 percent of whom are dependent on aid, according to the United Nations.

Economists say the current levels of imports have been enough to maintain basic living standards but not to generate recovery, and unemployment has spiralled from 28 percent to 43 percent since the 2014 war.

TRTWorld and agencies