2004-03-29 16:57:00
Embassy Tel Aviv
Cable title:  


This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TEL AVIV 001911 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/28/2005


Classified By: Economic Counselor Ted Mann per 1.4 b and d

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 TEL AVIV 001911



E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/28/2005


Classified By: Economic Counselor Ted Mann per 1.4 b and d

1. (C) Summary: Following a series of terrorist attacks at
or near the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel, the GOI
began requiring UN personnel to walk through the crossing
point. The GOI also restricted movement of all containers at
Karni crossing following information suggesting that the
terrorists implicated in the March 14 Ashdod bombing may have
escaped Gaza in an empty container. UN agencies accepted the
restrictions begrudgingly and on the condition that the
measures would be temporary. On March 26, UN agency heads
issued a press release stating that the limitations were no
longer acceptable and might result in the UN having to reduce
or terminate some critical humanitarian services. The GOI
has offered to restore some vehicle access but far short of
what is needed, according to the UN agencies. As for food
access, the GOI is allowing UNRWA food containers in, but no
empty containers out. The UN is refusing to import more food
and risk incurring thousands of dollars in demurrage fees for
the empty containers. GOI efforts to resolve these issues
have been clumsy and ad hoc. For its part, the UN may have
overstated the possibility of a food "crisis". Solving these
problems expeditiously is necessary to ensure uninterrupted
humanitarian services to the Palestinian population. End
Summary and Comment.

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Restrictions at Erez: UN says "Not going to take it anymore"
-------------- --------------

2. (C) On March 26, UN heads of agencies held an emergency
meeting in Jerusalem where they agreed that they could not
continue "business as usual". Specifically, they agreed that
no staff would enter/exit Gaza by foot and that no new
containers of food would be imported until the GOI had
demonstrated that empty containers would be allowed to exit
Gaza. They further agreed to issue a press release entitled
"UN forced to consider humanitarian cut-back in Gaza" in

order to put public pressure on the GOI to revert to status
quo ante in regards to its treatment of UN personnel. (See
para. 11 for full text).

3. (C) UN frustration has been building since the GOI began
requiring personnel to walk through Erez following the failed
March 6 terrorist attack at the crossing that caused some
minor damage to the infrastructure. This rule has taken on
various permutations, with personnel sometimes being required
to use the far more restrictive chute for Palestinian day
laborers, and other times being allowed to walk through the
VIP area. The UN and diplomatic community argued that not
only did the rule significantly delay personnel, it also put
staff at serious additional risk by precluding the use of
armored vehicles and exposing personnel to possible militant
fire in the "no-man's" land between Israel and Gaza. On March
23 (the day after the Yassin killing),the IDF abandoned a UN
official along with two international journalists and five
Italian NGO workers in the laborer's chute when the crossing
began to receive mortar shells. The eight individuals were
left stuck between two electronic gates for 20 minutes, while
IDF personnel retreated to their defensive positions. This
incident was the "final straw" according to UN sources.

-------------- --------------
GOI conflicted on how to facilitate humanitarian
work and guarantee security
-------------- --------------

4. (C) There have been a series of meetings, letters and
phone calls between the diplomatic/relief community and the
GOI over the past few weeks to discuss Erez restrictions.
Initially, COGAT intimated that the restrictions were
temporary and the status quo ante would be restored as soon
as a security review was complete and the infrastructure
(gate and road),which had been moderately damaged in the
March 6 attack, repaired. As time passed, the GOI restored
vehicle access to diplomats and a limited number of blue UN
laissez-passer (UNLP) holders. As of, March 29, the GOI has
offered unlimited access for diplomats and red UNLP holders
and vehicle access for 21 blue UNLP holders who are resident
in Gaza.

5. (C) The relief community has tentatively rejected this
offer, though it will not take an official position until
after the Heads of Agencies meeting scheduled for April 1. A
UN official asked "how can we tell half of the international
staff that they can drive through Erez, while the other half
has to walk and be exposed to greater security risk?"
Numerous UN colleagues have told embassy staff that they will
not/not accept a less than comprehensive solution. (Note:
There are approximately 50 international blue UNLP holders
resident in Gaza. A much larger number of international
staff for the UN and other NGOs are resident in Jerusalem and
require regular travel to Gaza. Thus far the GOI has offered
no dispensation for staff resident in Jerusalem. End Note.)

6. (C) Daniel Beaudoin, a mid-ranking official in COGAT,
confided to econoff on March 28 that the GOI was "struggling"
with what to do. He said that the intelligence services did
not want any/any cars at Erez and although they knew that the
chances were slim that a diplomatic or UN car would be
boobytrapped, they were acting out of "fear." At a March 23
meeting, Coordinator for Government Activities General
Mishlev told the TFPI that he would raise the issue of
vehicular access with General Harel, IDF Head of Southern
Command, and report back to the group early the following
week. We do not yet have a read-out of that discussion.

UNRWA says won't bring in more food
until container restrictions eased

7. (C) The international community is also concerned over
problems with food shipments to Gaza. Karni crossing has
worked intermittently, at best, over the month of March. The
press reported widely that the terrorists who attacked Ashdod
left Gaza by stowing away in an empty container that passed
through Karni. The GOI has not yet officially confirmed
those reports, but has restricted movements of containers out
of Gaza in the wake of the attack. UNRWA reported that it
currently has 40 empty containers in Gaza that it needs to
return to Ashdod. It is charged USD 20/day/container for the
first ten days as demurrage; thus currently the agency is
incurring costs of USD 800/day. After the first ten days,
the charges increase significantly.

8. (C) Kris Nordahl, UNRWA deputy field representative, told
econoff that the agency had decided not to import any more
food until it had concrete proof that empty containers will
be allowed out. Nordahl said that for the past three days he
had been in a "Kafkaesque" world where the office of the
Coordinator for Government Activities (COGAT) tells him he
has permission to export empty containers, only to be told at
the crossing that no such permission exists. UNRWA currently
has 267 containers of food that have been cleared at Ashdod
and are ready for shipment to/to Gaza. As of March 26,
Nordahl said that the GOI is allowing 50 humanitarian
containers in per day, which Nordahl characterized as
"sufficient." However, Nordahl said that UNRWA had "learned
the lesson" of the past of "trusting" the GOI and going
forward with operations, only to be "stuck" with costs later
on. UNRWA would therefore not/not bring in any new
containers until it had been "proven" that the GOI would let
empty containers out, he said. According to Nordahl, there
is enough food in the warehouse to make distributions through
this week only. WFP reported that it was not experiencing
any problems at Karni because coincidentally it had no
scheduled shipments. Genevieve Wills, WFP Gaza director,
told econoff that the agency has enough food on-hand to make
distributions through mid-April.


9. (C) The primary issue at this point is restoring vehicle
access for international personnel. We concur that it is too
dangerous to walk through Erez crossing and the procedure
significantly hinders the work of the relief community. The
statements about food availability are somewhat misleading
since technically the UN can/can import containers; It just
lacks a guarantee that it will be able to export the empty
containers. Last year the UN was stuck with tens of
thousands of dollars in demurrage fees when unable to export
empty containers for a sustained period. Ideally, this issue
should be resolved and we will not have to see whether the UN
"blinks" and brings in food containers without the desired
proof that it will be able to get them out. Meetings
continue between the GOI and various UN and donor
interlocutors. However, thus far, GOI efforts to handle the
situation have been clumsy and ad hoc. For example, on March
28, COGAT officials called UN heads at 08:30 and informed
them that all international staff could travel freely with
their vehicles until 12:00 noon that day. March 29, there
was no such "window". European Union officials and others
have said they simply cannot work under such parameters.
Solving these problems expeditiously is necessary to ensure
uninterrupted humanitarian services to the Palestinian
population. End Comment.

Press Statement

11. (U) (Begin text) (Title) UN Forced to Consider
Humanitarian Cut-Bank in Gaza (Title)

New York and Gaza City, March 26 - The heads of the United
Nations agencies may have to reduce or terminate some
critical humanitarian relief operations in Gaza due to new
movement restrictions imposed on UN personnel and
humanitarian assistance by the Government of Israel.

For the last three weeks, nearly all UN and other
humanitarian agency vehicles have been prohibited from
crossing through the Erez checkpoint. In addition, the
movement of food containers through Karni - the only
commercial crossing point in Gaza - is currently obstructed.

These unacceptable limitations on access for humanitarian
staff and goods are undermining UN operational capability to
deliver essential services and food relief to Gaza's civilian
population. These operations provide more than half of
Gaza's essential social services, as well as food assistance
to several hundred thousand people. Any cutbacks will lead
to a further deterioration of the already fragile
humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The UN recognizes Israel's legitimate security concerns and
senior officials have repeatedly sought to engage the
Government of Israel to resolve these concerns, but without
success. Because the restrictions persist, the UN is
compelled to call publicly on the Government of Israel to
restore full access to Gaza for UN and humanitarian workers
and goods.

The UN agencies include:

(End Text).

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