Report: Gaza travel remains difficult

Despite promises by Israel at February's Sharm al-Shaikh summit to ease travel restrictions in and between the Gaza Strip, Palestinians have seen little improvement in their day-to-day lives, a new UN report says.

    The Sharm al-Shaikh declaration had raised hopes on all sides

    Palestinian travel remains extremely difficult, with movement out of the Gaza Strip having decreased by nearly 50% during the month of February, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported.


    A mere 250 Palestinian were able to leave Gaza in the month of February. 


    Israeli officials say the delays are due to increased security precautions, with the lifting of age restrictions on Palestinian travellers, but all Palestinians are bearing the brunt, including patients in need of critical medical treatment currently unavailable in Gaza.


    "Ambulances have not been able to transfer patients from the Palestinian side of the border for the last three months. People with serious health concerns have travelled in service taxis with other passengers," according to the study, titled Gaza Strip: Access Report.


    Growing backlog


    A number of medical services, including catheterisation and cardiac surgery, burn treatments, neurosurgery, radiotherapy, eye operations and organ transplants are unavailable in the war-torn coastal strip.


    Travel from one section of Gaza
    to another can take days

    Palestinians requiring such treatment must navigate a matrix of administrative procedures imposed by Israel and wait for days on end before reaching their destination, a time-consuming process they often can ill afford.


    Palestinian officials reported that a backlog of travellers, including patients, is developing at the crossing, and said it would take at least five days to be able to cross. 


    "It is extremely crowded now at the crossing and it takes several days to be able to get through," one Palestinian security official working at the crossing, said.


    "Nothing has changed," he told


    Palestinian Civil Affairs Minister Muhammad Dahlan accused Israel of failing to implement measures to ease movement on crossings from and to Gaza Strip.


    He stressed that this would "contribute toward turning the region into a factory for producing bombers, instead of gaining the support of pro-peace elements."


    Access denied


    The Rafah crossing is the only route by which Gaza's 1.4 millions Palestinians can access the outside world. The Palestinian airport in southern part of the strip was destroyed by Israeli forces at the beginning of al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000.


    The Israeli government continues to deny Palestinians use of the airport and of the Erez land crossing in the northern Gaza Strip.

    The Rafah border crossing has
    been closed numerous times


    The report also noted that while there is now 24-hour movement through Abu Huli checkpoint linking the southern Gaza Strip with the north, there continue to be delays of up to 30 minutes at the checkpoint, and both pedestrian traffic and private vehicles remain unable to cross the junction.


    Movement in and out of several Palestinian villages located near illegal Israeli settlements remains extremely prohibitive.


    Entry and exit into the village of al-Mawasi, for example, is only possible on foot with prior coordination and for a set number of hours. More than 5000 people live in the village.


    "Movement ... has been and remains tightly controlled by the IDF - in spite of the recent easing of restrictions," the report says.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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