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Israel opens Gaza's Erez crossing to commercial traffic first time in nine years

Israel claims measure will help Palestinian importers, bolster local economy

Man holds his child as they wait to cross at Erez between Gaza and Israel earlier this year (AFP)

Israel opened a major crossing between Israel and Gaza on Wednesday to allow the passage of vehicles carrying goods for the first time in nine years, officials said.

An AFP photographer saw deliveries arriving through the Erez crossing at the northern entry to the Palestinian territory that has been under an Israeli blockade for a decade. 

Erez has been restricted to individuals since 2007, with goods forced to pass through Kerem Shalom in southern Gaza.

The move comes after Israel and Turkey mended ties, allowing Turkey to send aid ships to Gaza for the first time in years, although Israel still inspects the cargo at Ashdod port. Turkey had initially said that it would not resume normal ties with Israel until the blockade of Gaza had been lifted, although the demand was subsequently watered down. 

Residents of Israeli towns near Kerem Shalom had for months complained about hundreds of trucks passing through the area daily, causing heavy traffic and endangering motorists.

In May, then defence minister Moshe Yaalon said Erez would be opened in order to enable a better flow of goods into Gaza and ease congestion at Kerem Shalom.

"This measure has been taken to facilitate the work of Palestinian importers and thus help the economy of the Gaza Strip," a spokesman for COGAT, the defence ministry body responsible for implementing government policies in the Palestinian territories, told AFP.

An association of Palestinian vehicle owners in Gaza said 110 vehicles had already arrived on their side through Erez.

Erez is nearer to major Israeli cities than Kerem Shalom and may enable more efficient transport of goods from Israeli port cities such as Ashdod.

Israel has imposed the blockade for a decade, citing the necessity of preventing the Islamist movement Hamas, which runs Gaza, from rebuilding military forces and positions.

According to the World Bank and the UN, the blockade has killed virtually all exports from Gaza, as well as bringing the economy of the small enclave to the brink of collapse.

Wedged between Egypt, Israel and the Mediterranean, the Gaza Strip is home to about 1.9 million Palestinians.

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