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Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has ordered the operating hours at the Karni crossing into the Gaza Strip extended to accommodate commercial transports.

The crossing will now be open an extra shift, until 11 P.M., according to instructions given by Olmert on Wednesday at a special session on the Gaza Strip crossings.

The state will grant the Airports' Authority, which operates the crossing, the funding for the extended hours of activity.

Following talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas about a month and a half ago, Olmert ordered the crossing's hour of closure to be extended from 4:30 P.M. until 6 P.M. But according to a political source in Jerusalem, reports indicate problems in the lines at the crossing. The extra shift is set to begin in 45 days.

The Karni crossing is the "artery of economic life" for the Gaza Strip. According to Defense Ministry figures, some 400 trucks pass through the crossing each day on average. Two hundred and fifty of these trucks come from Israel into the Strip and 150 from the Strip into Israel.

Currently, the Karni crossing is open until 6 P.M. daily. The Defense Ministry believes that with the extra operating hours, traffic at the crossing will increase to 600 trucks, in both directions.

In addition to the extended hours at Karni, a new pedestrian passageway is planned to be opened at the Erez crossing, though it is unclear when that will occur.