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World Bank sees less growth boosting Gaza trade

Written by: Staff

Jerusalem, March 06: Scant progress has been made implementing a deal brokered last year by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to boost the flow of goods into and out of Gaza after Israel's withdrawal, the World Bank said.

''Very little has been implemented and the system that exists today is virtually unchanged,'' the international lending agency said in the report, which was expected to be released today.

Under the November. 15 agreement announced by Rice and touted by Washington as a rare breakthrough in Middle East diplomacy, Israel agreed to allow 150 commercial trucks to pass daily through Gaza's Karni crossing with Israel by December. 31, 2005.

That number would rise to 400 by the end of 2006.

But the World Bank said Karni crossing data suggested that there had been ''no sustained improvement'' in the movement of goods across Karni before or after Israel's pullout, completed last September.

In the six months preceding the withdrawal, an average of 43 trucks per day crossed out of Gaza, followed by 18 trucks a day in September and October 2005, the report said.

From November 2005 to mid-February, the daily average reached only 43 trucks a day, it added.

The United Nations cautioned last week that stocks of wheat, sugar and cooking oil were dwindling in Gaza and could begin to run out within days unless Israel reopened Karni.

Israel closed the crossing for 21 days between January. 15 and February. 5. It was closed again on February. 21 after a mysterious explosion in the area and has remained closed because of ''continued security alerts'', the army said.

Israeli officials have defended their closure of Karni as a security precaution against possible Palestinian attacks and said they offered to reroute supplies to Gaza through another crossing, a proposal the Palestinians declined.

Israel has retained control of all access points for bringing goods in and out of the Gaza Strip, citing security concerns.

Palestinians depend on foreign aid totalling more than 1 billion dollars a year. It is unclear how much of that money would be withheld by international donors once Palestinian election winner Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel's destruction, forms the next government.

Since a Palestinian revolt erupted in 2000, Hamas has masterminded at least 60 suicide bombings against Israelis. But it has largely abided by a truce declared last year.


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