Wolfensohn said after his predawn tour on Wednesday that there was a "need for improvement" at Erez, the main crossing for Gaza Palestinians who work in Israel.

"There is no doubt on both sides that there is a need for improvement," Wolfensohn told reporters as he followed in the footsteps of workers, through the meticulously monitored tunnel, fully equipped with metal turnstiles, single-file barriers, X-ray machines and Israeli army cameras.

"It's quite obvious that there are substantial delays both ways when you have so many people with an inadequate facility," Wolfensohn said.

Wolfensohn was joined by Mohammed Dahlan, the Palestinian Cabinet minister in charge of coordinating the Gaza withdrawal with the Israelis.

Workers' dilemma

At 5am, hundreds of workers lay snoozing in the concrete parking lot outside the Israeli terminal, waiting for a bus to take them to their jobs.

Palestinian workers queue up at
the Erez crossing point on Tuesday

Most of them had already been up for several hours in order to undergo a rigorous security check and walk through a kilometre-long tunnel across the border.

After a full day of work in physically demanding jobs, it can take many hours before they return home because of long waits as they cross back into Gaza.

Wolfensohn, a former president of the World Bank, is now an international coordinator for the so-called Quartet - the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia - on economic issues surrounding Israel's upcoming withdrawal from Gaza.