The World Bank technical team examining the provision of a "safe crossing" between the Gaza Strip and the areas of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinian Authority has recommended that convoys carrying passengers and cargo operate on three routes connecting the Strip to the southern, central and northern West Bank several times a day, according to a report recently sent to the Palestinian Authority. The report, which details the proposed use of bus, cargo truck and passenger vehicle convoys, is expected to come up in discussions between Middle East Quartet envoy James Wolfensohn and Israeli and Palestinian security officials. Both Israel and the PA accept, in principle, the major points raised in the report, a copy of which has been obtained by Haaretz.
According to the World Bank report, three routes are needed because of the restrictions Israel imposes on movement within the West Bank. It recommends that the routes be located away from built-up and heavily trafficked areas whenever possible and suggests that convoys of trucks carrying goods could also be used for travel between Palestinian areas and Ben-Gurion International Airport, as well as the Ashdod and Haifa ports.
The report, dated September 30, suggests that operations begin with bus convoys.
"Technical discussions will be needed to agree on both principles and operational details," the report states. "Given the current lack of agreement between the parties on the how convoys will operate, it is proposed that operations begin with bus convoys for the transportation of people, as this should be relatively straightforward to implement."
The next phase, which is expected to involve more security issues, would involve the movement of Palestinian cargo trucks, and the third and most complex phase is the movement of private passenger vehicles. The World Bank report also states the following:
l A working assumption is that convoys could contain up to five buses (up to 300 passengers, if each bus carries 60), 15 trucks or 25 personal vehicles. The number of vehicles per convoy should be limited on the basis of security considerations.
l Convoys should operate on a fixed, published schedule, and during daylight hours.
l With an optimum mix of routes and an average of a 10-hour operating day, passenger bus convoys could serve up to 2,100 passengers per day in each direction. With a reasonable level of utilization, it should be possible to provide this service at less than $15 per person each way. The cost of the transport and security services would be borne by the convoy users.
l Convoys would be organized by a private Israeli transport company and escorted by a private Israeli security company. The companies would be selected by the Palestinian Authority on a competitive basis from among a list of bidders.
l Permission to travel would be granted to all Palestinians except those deemed to be security risks. The screening of passengers would not need to be as exacting as for those visiting Israel, since they would not alight in Israel. Refusal of permission to travel should be based on clear criteria, subject to review. While in transit, passengers will not be subject to arrest unless their conduct en route gives cause for alarm. Frequent travelers could be given frequent traveler ID cards to speed processing.
l In the event of a medical emergency, the convoy should continue in transit, but an ambulance should be dispatched to intercept the convoy and evacuate the affected traveler to a nearby hospital.
l A special channel should be created at the Erez crossing [at the northern Gaza Strip] for the inspection of convoy trucks and their drivers.
Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met yesterday to discuss reopening the Rafah crossing between Egypt and southern Gaza.
The Europeans have agreed for EU inspectors to take overall control of the Rafah terminal and monitor the cameras at the entrance. Contrary to reports in the Palestinian media, the Europeans did not agree to Israel's request that the inspectors be responsible for arresting suspected smugglers, saying they don't have the authority to do this.
The parties have agreed that for an interim period, only Palestinians with special permits will be allowed to enter the Gaza Strip using the Rafah crossing. Goods and other travelers will go through the Kerem Shalom terminal, which is under Israeli control. Trucks carrying cargo will, however, be allowed to enter Egypt through the Rafah crossing.
Inspection equipment has been installed at the Rafah crossing, sources say, and Israel and the PA hope to reopen it in by the middle of the month.
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