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05TELAVIV2284 2005-04-13 07:40:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Tel Aviv
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					  C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 TEL AVIV 002284 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/23/2015

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires Gene A. Cretz for reasons 1.4 (b) and

1. (C) Summary: Since the February 8 Sharm el Sheikh summit
between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli PM Ariel
Sharon, the GOI has made several improvements in the Gazan
crossings regime, and the IDF has increased its willingness
to coordinate with the international community and the TFPI
on issues of permits and humanitarian access. On the
crossings, improvements include a dramatic increase in the
number of Gazan laborers and businesspeople crossing daily
through the Erez terminal and the partial re-opening of the
Erez Industrial Zone. On humanitarian access to the Gaza
Strip, the international Task Force on Project Implementation
(TFPI) reports unprecedented IDF cooperation, including
allowing the TFPI to work directly with IDF brigade and field
commanders. In addition, COGAT has increased its
responsiveness on Embassy permit requests following the
Ambassador's February 22 meeting with General Mishlev.
Despite these changes, only a relatively small number of
Gazan businessmen report that they have benefited, and most
Gazans on the ground note little positive impact on their
daily lives. Contacts continue to complain of significant
delays at Karni terminal, and have expressed dismay over a
reportedly medical grade x-ray the IDF has installed at Rafah
crossing. Additionally, Post remains concerned about the
potential humanitarian and economic impact of a full IDF
closure of the Gaza Strip in preparation for and during
Israel's planned summer evacuation of Gaza settlers. Such a
shutdown may prevent some 60 USAID and PD grantees from
traveling to the U.S. for summer programs. End Summary.


GOI Improves Crossings...


2. (SBU) Several changes in the Gazan crossings regime have
occurred since the February 8 Sharm el Sheikh summit between
PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli PM Ariel Sharon.
Improvements have included removal of the restriction on
males age 16-35 exiting Gaza via Rafah Terminal, the partial
re-opening of the Erez Industrial Zone, an increase in the
number of laborer and merchant permits issued to Gazans, and
an easing of internal restrictions on movement at the Abu
Kholi checkpoint. On permits and external border crossings,
GOI sources report an increase since March 13 in the number
of laborer permits issued to 5,600 to 1,100. In conjunction
with this, UNRWA reported an average of 3,500 laborers
crossing through Erez into Israel the week of April 3, with
over 4,000 laborers crossing April 9. These numbers reflect
a dramatic increase from the 200-300 laborers crossing daily
prior to February. Several Gazan private sector contacts
concur with reports of operational improvements at Erez,
saying that their average transit time at the crossing has
lately been reduced from hours to 15-20 minutes. Similarly,
OCHA has cited "a sustained increase in the number of
workers" entering the Erez Industrial Zone since its February
13 re-opening, with numbers now topping 600 on a daily basis.
(Note: The Erez Industrial Zone employed over 3,500 Gazans
daily prior to its June 2004 closure. End note.) On
internal closures, Gazan contacts also report positively on
the 24-hour-a-day opening of Abu Kholi checkpoint to private
vehicles, albeit those carrying at least three passengers.


...But Average Gazans Unaffected and Unimpressed



3. (C) Despite these improvements, contacts in Gaza and in
international organizations are quick to point out that the
GOI has not yet implemented the full scope of crossing
improvements needed for real economic growth and humanitarian
relief in the Strip. According to Bank of Palestine Vice
Chairman Dr. Hani Shawa, "only the elite benefit from changed
procedures at the crossings; the average Gazan is still
humiliated and restricted." Palestinian human rights
organizations report that while the number of laborers
crossing through Erez into Israel has increased, security
procedures for this category of permit holders remain lengthy
and strict. On an April 3 visit to the terminal, Econoff
observed no movement over the course of more than one hour
for 20 laborers and humanitarian/medical cases attempting to
return to Gaza. Additionally, the same private sector
contacts who cite shorter crossing times at Erez note that
seemingly random changes in IDF procedures have caused
sporadic delays. "On Monday we crossed in 15 minutes," 7-UP
CEO Mohammed Yazgi told Econoff April 3. "On Tuesday, we
stood in the sun waiting for a metal door to open for three
hours, and then we gave up and went home."

4. (C) On Karni terminal, the Gaza Strip's only passage for
the import and export of goods, manufacturers and
agribusinesses dependent on raw materials and access to
outside markets charge that there has been no improvement in
procedures. Israeli shipping and marketing firms confirm
that containers moving in or out of the Strip continue to
wait at Karni for 20-30 days. (Note: According to Karni
general manager Yoni Doton, closures and delays are often
precipitated by what he terms credible security threats.
These types of short-term closures have reportedly increased
since the December terrorist bombing that killed six Israeli
terminal employees. End note.) Finally, UNRWA, OCHA, and
Gazan private sector contacts have raised significant
concerns regarding a reportedly medical-grade x-ray machine
the IDF is using to scan travelers -- including pregnant
women and the ill -- exiting the Gaza Strip at Rafah
terminal. Contacts say that the machine causes delays due to
the need for its operator to move behind a leaded curtain
during use. IDF sources told the Embassy April 2 that the
machine is a thermal sensor and produces no harmful
radiation. Nevertheless, PA Minister for Civil Affairs
Muhammed Dahlan reportedly secured the GOI's promise to
strictly limit the use of this machine, although it remains
on site at the terminal.


Increased COGAT and IDF Responsiveness,
But What About Lockdown?


5. (C) The multi-donor Task Force on Project Implementation
has cited unprecedented willingness on the part of senior IDF
staff in recent weeks to work with TFPI members on issues of
humanitarian and international access to Gaza. An April 6
meeting of TFPI members with Gaza Division Commander
Brigadier General Kohavi constituted the achievement of a
longstanding TFPI priority to secure for itself direct access
to brigade and division commanders. Kohavi told the TFPI
that "security is for Israel above all, but we recognize now
that it is not all." He suggested that he meet with TFPI
members once a month, and ordered his assistants to work with
COGAT staff on "creative solutions" to the TFPI's "minimum
requirements" document that addresses issues of cargo. In a
similarly forward-leaning gesture, COGAT head Major General
Mishlev assured the Ambassador February 22 that COGAT will
improve its responsiveness on Embassy permit requests. LtC.
Daniel Beaudoin, head of COGAT's International Relations
division, and Maj. Uri Singer of the Erez Liaison Office, met
with an Embassy team headed by EconCouns April 7 for the
first in a planned series of joint coordination sessions.
Singer emphasized the importance of several recent
operational changes at the Erez terminal, including the
opening of five passenger lanes, which he said allows
merchants, VIP permit holders, laborers and humanitarian
cases to cross at the same time. Emboffs have observed that
in several recent instances, this increased capacity has
enabled Singer to coordinate expedited passage for groups of
Embassy contacts with valid permits on one day's notice.
Beaudoin and Singer agreed to accept a comprehensive weekly
list of pending Embassy permit requests, which they said will
ensure greater COGAT responsiveness and quicker turnaround.

6. (C) Both COGAT and the IDF brigade and division
commanders are not yet able to provide key details, however,
on the GOI's planned "lockdown" of the Gaza Strip in the
run-up to disengagement, and the effect it may have on
freedom of movement for Gazan Palestinians. Israeli media
sources and several GOI contacts cite May 1 as the date after
which Israeli access to Gaza settlements will be halted. The
IDF has emphasized, however, that this restriction will not
affect Gazan movement or the flow of goods in and out of the
Strip. Despite these assurances, the international community
is concerned that the efforts of an estimated 40,000 - 50,000
IDF troops and several thousand additional Israeli National
Police forces deployed to Gaza on or around June 1 to carry
out the process of settlement evacuation will cause a de
facto closure of the Strip for Palestinians as well as
Israeli settlers. In addition, COGAT told Emboffs April 9
that regardless of the GOI's efforts not to restrict Gazan
movement, the tens of thousands of right-wing activists
expected to begin demonstrations close to the Israeli side of
the Erez terminal in the run-up to withdrawal may also deter
Gazans from exiting the Strip. The Embassy has made clear to
the GOI that COGAT and IDF assistance will be required in
ensuring ease of travel for some 60 Gazans slated to travel
to the U.S. on USAID and Public Diplomacy-sponsored programs
between June and October.

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