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Exports leaving the Gaza Strip through the Karni crossing, the lifeline of the Palestinian economy in the Gaza Strip, do not meet the minimum requirements of the Palestinian economy there, according to a report by Paltrade, the Palestinian trade association.

In its monthly report monitoring activity at the crossing, Paltrade concludes that there is insufficient commerce passing through Karni to successfully restart the Palestinian economy in the Gaza Strip.

The Peres Peace Center is publishing a joint program with Paltrade later this week on a reorganization of the crossings between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

According to the monitoring report, the crossing was open for 22 days in February and was closed on two days for security reasons - once by Israeli authorities and another time by the Palestinians.

The traffic of goods at the crossing, measured in truckloads, reached its peak during the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Jerusalem on 19 February.

On average in February, a total of 56.3 truckloads of exports crossed during a working day, and 407.8 loads of imports entered Gaza through Karni.

During the days Rice was visiting the region, 73 truckloads were exported from Gaza and a new monthly record of 81 trucks was achieved several days earlier.

During her visit to the crossing, Rice commended the expansion of trade through Karni.

According to the World Bank, which supports the activities of Paltrade, the minimum required to jump-start the Palestinian economy in the Gaza Strip is 150 truckloads of exports per day.

Most of the exports from Gaza were agricultural produce, vegetables and strawberries, and the main products imported were construction materials.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday that starting late March, the Karni crossing will operate on a two-shift rotation and remain open until 11 P.M. rather than the current 5:30 P.M.

In talks with European officials, Olmert said that expanding the operation of the Karni crossing will enable 950 truckloads to cross each day.

Several months ago the National Security Council recommended to Olmert that control of Karni be transferred to the Defense Ministry for more efficient operations. It is currently run by the Israel Airports Authority. The proposal was not accepted.

The Peres Peace Center and Paltrade proposal, entitled Through Traffic, is calling for American and international standards in the operation of the crossings, in line with post-9/11 developments and the November 2005 "crossings agreement," which has to a large extent not been implemented.