"In a few days there'll be a flour shortage, and if that happens there'll be a conflagration here - but it will be directed against the Israelis, not Hamas," Deputy Minister of Economics in the Palestinian Authority, Nasser Saraj, said yesterday about the closure of the Karni border crossing. The crossing has been completely closed since February 21, and since the beginning of the year it has not been open for more than 12 days.
"We've already reached marginal levels for flour and other staples in the Strip, and within a week people will be climbing onto the Erez checkpoint to get food. The Israelis know perfectly well that the Strip can survive on existing stores for three weeks to a month, but the economic damage caused by the border closure is great," Saraj added.
According to a report compiled by Saraj, by the end of the week the flour and sugar in the Gaza Strip will run out. Rice is expected to run out a few days later. The production lines for candies and other foods made with sugar are down, and there's no fresh milk at all in the Strip, just milk substitutes.
The prices of flour and sugar, the main staples, have risen by about 20 percent since the crossing was closed and will continue to rise.
In addition to the critical shortage of staple groceries, the closure has caused significant economic damage to Gaza farmers and businessmen. Cement and steel cannot come into the Strip, and neither can fertilizers. Greenhouse owners, for example, are losing about $500,000 a day during the peak of the harvest season for peppers, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes.
The prime vegetables that were intended for export are being sold in the Gaza markets for 50 agorot a kilo, or are left to rot on the vine.
Hassan Al-Huly, whose family owns two bakeries in Gaza City, says that the retail cost of a sack of flour has risen from NIS 89 to NIS 98. He keeps three to four days' supply in reserve.
"So far we've absorbed the costs but if this continues we'll have to raise our prices," Huly said.
"Karni is a powerful bargaining chip for the Israelis," Salim Abu Safiyeh, director-general of the Palestinian Border Authority, said Tuesday. "Every step you people make here has an immediate effect and you know it. The bottom line is that you're not implementing the border agreements or the Paris agreements," Abu Safiyeh said.
The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that the head of the Southern Command, Yoav Galant, and Aviv Kochavi, commander of the Gaza Division, recently recommended the reopening of Karni and said there was no security-related reason for its closure. But Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz ordered the closure to continue.
Several different reasons have been given for the closure, including the upcoming Israeli elections and the recent Hamas victory in the PA elections.
"We've done everything to reassure the Israelis, but you can't strangle the Strip because the desk of two secretaries moved a little and they thought they heard explosion," Abu Safiyeh said.