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Gazan businesses lament Israel’s suspension of exports, warn of ‘catastrophe’

Palestinian businesses claimed Tuesday that an Israeli decision to suspend exports from the Gaza Strip put the territory at risk of a “humanitarian catastrophe.”

On Monday, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi ordered a halt to commercial deliveries from Gaza to Israel after an alleged attempt to smuggle explosives. The government approved the move.

The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli-led blockade since the Islamist terror group Hamas seized power in a bloody coup in 2007. Israel says the blockade, which is also enforced by neighboring Egypt, is needed to prevent the terror group, which openly seeks Israel’s destruction and has fired thousands of rockets at Israeli cities, from arming.

Gaza Chamber of Commerce president Ayed Abu Ramadan said the Israeli decision was “a new escalation in the policy of the economic blockade” on the coastal enclave.

Home to around 2.3 million Palestinians, Gaza is plagued by poverty and unemployment — conditions Abu Ramadan warned would only worsen with the “unjust” move.

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He denounced the “collective punishments” that risk causing “a real humanitarian catastrophe.”

Osama Nofal, of the Hamas-run Gaza economic ministry, put the value of Gaza exports to Israel and the West Bank at around $134 million a year, with the bulk being fruit and vegetables, fish, clothing and furniture.

Palestinian Federation of Industries spokesman Waddah Bseiso said the decision could force “hundreds of factories to close” and thousands of layoffs.

Explosives caught by Israeli authorities at Kerem Shalom Crossing, September 4, 2023. (Defense Ministry)

Israel said on Monday that its security forces had “detected several kilograms of high-quality explosives hidden within a clothing delivery carried by three trucks” at the Kerem Shalom crossing between Gaza and Israel. According to initial assessments, the explosives were intended to be used for terror activity in the West Bank, the Defense Ministry said.

In response, Halevi, with approval from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, ordered the halting of “commercial deliveries from Gaza to Israel, allowing security adjustments to be made at the crossing.”

“Deliveries will resume in accordance with subsequent situation assessments,” the Israeli army and Defense Ministry said in a joint statement.

The Kerem Shalom crossing is the only point of entry for goods between the Gaza Strip and Israel.

The Israeli suspension comes with tensions raging across the region amid a string of Palestinian attacks in Israel and the West Bank that have left 27 civilians and three soldiers dead, and several others seriously wounded since the beginning of the year.

According to a tally by The Times of Israel, 177 West Bank Palestinians have been killed during the same period — most of them during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under unclear circumstances, including by armed Israeli settlers.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, Australia, Britain, Israel and the European Union.