Israel okays first Gaza-West Bank trade in 5 years

Khaleej Times March 5 2012

JERUSALEM — Israel on Monday allowed the Palestinians to export two truckloads of date bars from Gaza to the West Bank in what was the first such trade between the territories since 2007, the military and an NGO said.

The rare move was permitted as part of a World Food Programme (WFP) initiative to feed Palestinian school children, Israeli NGO Gisha said in a statement, which hailed the trade as “an important step.”

But the military said it was a “one-off” trade and did not mean its nearly five-year ban on exports between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank was being lifted.

“At the request of the Palestinian Authority, we have allowed the passage from Gaza, through Israel, of two lorries carrying date bars to Judaea and Samaria (the West Bank),” said Guy Inbar, a spokesman for COGAT, the military division in charge of coordinating access to and from Gaza.

“This is a one-off pilot project, and is not a renewal of free exports from Gaza. We want to look into several tax and trade issues,” he said, without elaborating.

Gisha, which campaigns for Palestinian freedom of movement and trade, said the permission was to include 19 trucks in total, in what was “the first exception to a sweeping ban, imposed by Israel in June 2007, on transferring goods from Gaza to markets in Israel and the West Bank.”

“This is an important step toward fulfilling the Israeli government’s commitment to allow economic development for Palestinians living in Gaza,” said Gisha director Sari Bashi.

“The question is whether this is a one-time gesture to the WFP or a change in policy. If marketing goods to the West Bank can be approved once, why can’t it be allowed on a routine basis”?

Before June 2007, 85 percent of Gaza’s exports were being sold to Israel and the West Bank, with the trade ban contributing to the collapse of Gaza’s economy, the NGO said.

Israel first imposed a blockade on Gaza in June 2006 after militants there snatched one of its soldiers.

It was tightened a year later after the Islamist Hamas movement seized power, ousting forces loyal to Western-backed president Mahmud Abbas.

The blockade has been eased somewhat but still remains in place, despite the release of the captive soldier in October last year under a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas.

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