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Aid delivery reaches Gaza

West Bank and Gaza, January 8, 2009

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Cassandra Nelson on a recent visit to the West Bank.

Despite many obstacles and bureaucratic procedures presented by the Israeli authorities, Mercy Corps successfully delivered emergency relief food items to Gaza on Thursday.

The organization delivered a truckload of vegetable cooking oil, rice and canned tuna fish in sufficient quantities to feed 2,000 extremely vulnerable people for a week.

Mercy Corps spent the past 11 days working through Israeli red tape and protocols that seemed to change daily to secure the permission to deliver the truck today. The delivery was supposed to be made Wednesday, but at 2 a.m. the Mercy Corps team in Jerusalem received notice from the Israeli Defense Forces that the delivery was being postponed because it contained dates, which were not an essential food item. Today's delivery did not include dates.

The truck was repacked last night without the dates and with an extra three tons of rice. At dawn this morning, the truck and Mercy Corps monitors set out for the Kerem Shalom checkpoint.

The Mercy Corps vehicle joined a line of about 25 trucks waiting at the border. After about an hourlong wait, the Israeli customs officials inspected the delivery and paperwork and allowed the truck to proceed into the unloading area for all shipments.

The vehicle was admitted to the unloading compound with several other aid trucks — all from various UN branches. The pallets were unloaded by forklift.

After all the items were removed from the truck and placed on the pavement of the compound, the security check began. Sniffing dogs were released to check the material. Next, a border control worker probed and stabbed every package with a long metal rod to check if anything might be hidden inside.

After the checks were completed, all the Israeli workers and other observers and monitors were told to exit back to the Israel side of the border. Once the compound was empty of all people, the gates on the Israeli side were slammed shut.

Next, the gates on the Gaza side of the compound were opened, allowing the Palestinians to enter the compound and collect the delivery with their trucks. No trucks were allowed to drive from the Israeli side to the Gaza side. Everything was offloaded from the trucks on the Israel side and then reloaded onto different trucks on the Gaza side.

Israeli guards said that at no point in the process are Israelis and Palestinians from the Gaza side allowed to meet each other.

The number deliveries are still far short of what is needed to serve a population that increasingly relies on outside aid to survive. On Wednesday, only 36 humanitarian-aid trucks were allowed to make their deliveries. Compare that to 2007, when an average of 500 trucks entered daily.