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Anwar al-Qazaz, 41, sent his eldest son to the market last weekend to buy school supplies for next year for his younger sisters. "He returned home with his sisters and told me there was nothing. No pens and pencils, no notebooks, and no school uniforms," he told Haaretz yesterday.

"I don't know what we'll do now," the unemployed father of 10 added. "Maybe wait for them to bring stuff in from Israel or Egypt. But the products that come from Egypt are expensive."

Staple foods do reach Gaza, Qazaz said, but prices have skyrocketed because demand outstrips supply. As examples, he cited rice, which now costs NIS 6 per kilogram instead of NIS 2, and tea, which is priced at NIS 5 per kilogram instead of NIS 2.

Under its truce with Hamas, Israel has permitted shipments of frozen meat, soft drinks, cookies, jam, shampoo, clothing and other items. However, the amounts are insufficient for the entire population.

In September 2007 - three months after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, and after the main cargo crossing, Karni, had been shut down - the Israeli government decided to allow only humanitarian necessities into Gaza. On June 19, 2008, pursuant to the truce, Israel decided to expand the list of goods allowed into the Strip. But since no formal government decision was ever made, there was never any explicit determination of what would be added to the basket of sanctioned goods.

Moreover, the once-busy Karni and Kerem Shalom crossings remain closed to trucks, though Karni operates a conveyor belt system for transferring cement and animal feed. So that leaves the Sufa crossing, where traffic is capped at 90 trucks a day.

United Nations officials say the volume of goods crossing into the Strip today is 46 percent of that in May 2007, on the eve of the Hamas takeover. PalTrade, the Palestinian private-sector trade center, reports similar findings. Since the truce began, for instance, printing paper has entered Gaza (218 tons in the first third of this month), but no other stationary supplies have come through. And the number of trucks entering Gaza is still just over half of what it was before the Hamas takeover in June 2007, when 9,400 cargo trucks a month entered the Strip.

The consequence is that numerous goods do not make it into Gaza despite constituting no apparent security risk - such as chocolate spread. Haaretz has seen purchase records for a shipment of chocolate spread that a Palestinian merchant bought for NIS 70,000 last May; it has been standing in a warehouse in southern Israel ever since.

A spokesman for the government's coordinator of activities in the territories, Peter Lerner, said the only reason why goods that pose no security risk do not enter Gaza is the limited number of trucks allowed to cross. The sole restriction on goods, Lerner said, is if they might be used to produce weapons. Thus metal pipes and fertilizers are out.

Not only is the list of permitted goods still uncertain, but there are also major fluctuations in daily traffic volume. For example, last Wednesday, August 13, 3,300 tons of cement and animal feed went through Karni, while 83 trucks carrying meat, fish, textiles, fruits and vegetables, sugar and other staples crossed through Sufa. A few days earlier, only 42 trucks went through Sufa.

Yair Moshe of the Karni transport company does business with more than 70 Gaza merchants, and knows which goods are and are not getting through. "There is still a ban today on products such as blankets, raw materials for industry, construction equipment like trowels and tiles," he said. "You're not allowed to transfer chocolate and chocolate spread; ground coconut, most nuts and seeds are out; and in hygiene products, you can't bring in creams and gels."

Merchants in Gaza buy the goods and then wait for permits to transfer them. In the meantime, much of the merchandise they paid for remains for months in Israeli warehouses.