Reconciliation spells cheaper prices for Gaza consumers

A Palestinian woman picks pineapples during a harvest on Thursday at a farm in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2017
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Reconciliation spells cheaper prices for Gaza consumers

GAZA: Gaza’s merchants and consumers are reaping early rewards from reconciliation moves by Hamas and the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA).
Israeli border restrictions, including a nearly blanket ban on exports from Gaza, and three wars since 2008 have imposed severe hardship in the territory. Israel says its rules are driven by security concerns, accusing Hamas of having used imported material to build weapons including rockets that have been fired at its cities.
Since Hamas ceded Gaza’s border crossings with Israel — the main gateway for commercial imports — to the Authority on Nov. 1 under an Egyptian-brokered unity deal, many prices in the territory have dropped.
The main reason for the decrease: the Authority has canceled surcharges, sometimes as high as 25 percent, that Hamas collected in cash from merchants in Gaza.
Businesses, in turn, have passed on some of those savings to customers: a 2017 Kia Picanto compact car, for example, now sells for $20,000 instead of $22,500, and a kilo of beef costs 40 shekels ($11), down from 50 ($15).
And this week, the PA, which takes its own tax in an arrangement agreed with Israel, allowed the import of cigarettes costing eight shekels a pack compared with the usual 21 shekels for other brands, through Israel’s Kerem Shalom commercial crossing for the first time.
Cigarettes used to come in only via smuggling tunnels under the Egyptian border but the PA is seeking understandings with Hamas and Cairo to choke off that channel.
“(Hamas’s fees) led to a weakening of sales power because the people in Gaza live under bad economic conditions and because of the Israeli blockade and the loss of jobs,” said Tareq Al-Saqqa, who owns an electrical goods company in Gaza, where unemployment tops 40 percent.
Citing security concerns, Israel and Egypt maintain tight restrictions at their Gaza borders. Hamas, regarded by the West as a terrorist group, seized the enclave in fighting in 2007 against forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Israel’s limits on Gaza’s import of so-called “dual use” material, such as steel and cement, that it fears could be used by Hamas to make weapons or fortifications are unlikely to change soon. But hundreds of truckloads of food and a wide variety of consumer goods move into Gaza daily via Israel.
Hamas, which handed administrative control of Gaza to the Authority under the reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo on Oct. 12, has spurned Israel’s demand it disarm.
“Israel said it would deal with the new administration in Gaza but in the way that would not allow Hamas and other factions to develop their military capabilities, which means it will continue to ban essential materials,” said Mohammed Abu Jayyab, a Gaza economist.
Economic revival
He and other local economic experts cautioned against any hopes of a rapid revival of Gaza’s economy unless Israel’s restrictions were fully removed.
Responsibility for security in still an open issue in Gaza, where Hamas, which is still policing the territory, has what analysts say are at least 25,000 well-equipped fighters. Further unity talks are scheduled for Nov. 21 in Cairo.
Keeping pressure on Hamas, Abbas has yet to lift economic sanctions he imposed in Gaza in June that included a cut in salaries the Authority paid to 60,000 civil servants. Abbas recently sent nearly 15,000 of them into early retirement.


Turkey train crash leaves 9 dead, dozens injured

Updated 13 December 2018
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Turkey train crash leaves 9 dead, dozens injured

  • The high-speed train usually passes through that station without stopping
  • Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 84 other people had sought medical help after the crash

ANKARA, TURKEY: A high-speed train hit a railway engine and crashed into a pedestrian overpass Thursday at a station in the Turkish capital of Ankara, killing nine people and injuring dozens, officials said.
The 6:30 a.m. train from Ankara to the central Turkish city of Konya collided head-on with the engine, which was checking the tracks at the capital’s small Marsandiz station, Transport Minister Mehmet Cahit Turhan told reporters after inspecting the site. The high-speed train, which the Anadolu Agency said was carrying 206 passengers, usually passes through that station without stopping.
At least two cars derailed, hitting the station’s overpass, which then collapsed onto the train. Three engine drivers and six passengers were killed in the crash, Turhan said. One passenger died after being hospitalized while the others were killed at the scene.
Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 84 other people had sought medical help after the crash.
Television footage showed emergency services working to rescue passengers from wrangled cars and debris. Hurriyet newspaper said sniffer dogs assisted efforts to find survivors. Turhan said later no one else was believed to be trapped.
It wasn’t immediately clear if a signaling problem caused the crash. Authorities detained three state railway employees over suspected negligence and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed a thorough investigation.
Passenger Ayse Ozyurt told the IHA news agency that the accident occurred 12 minutes after the train left the main station and that it had not yet gained its maximum speed.
“The train was not fast at that time yet,” she said. “Suddenly, there was a frightening breakage ... and the train was off the rail.”
Konya, about 260 kilometers (160 miles) south of Ankara, is home to the tomb of the Sufi mystic and poet Jalaladdin Rumi, attracting thousands of pilgrims and tourists. The crash occurred during an annual week of remembrance for Rumi, when many travel to Konya to watch Whirling Dervishes, members of a Sufi sect, perform.
Turkey has had a raft of train crashes this year.
In July, 24 people were killed and more than 70 injured when most of a passenger train derailed in northwestern Turkey after torrential rains caused a section of the tracks to collapse. Last month, 15 people were injured when a passenger train collided with a freight train in Turkey’s central province of Sivas.