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Israel confirms laptop (and sandwich) ban at Gaza crossing

In this Sunday, March 26, 2017 photo, Palestinian residents of Gaza strip wait on the Israeli side of the Erez terminal to cross to Gaza Strip.
(AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
The Shin Bet did not say what prompted the sudden change in regulations

Israel's internal security service confirmed on Monday reports of a ban on laptops, other large electronic devices, luggage and even snacks for some users of the Erez checkpoint between Gaza and Israel.

The Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) revealed the new regulations in a July 19 email to aid organizations, seen by i24NEWS, that detailed varying requirements for different categories of people using the crossing: foreigners, local NGO staff, humanitarian cases, Israeli ID holders, merchants and Palestinians traveling to and from the Israeli-Jordanian border.

The small number of Gaza residents who receive permits to travel to Jordan or further abroad - face the most stringent restrictions, with prohibitions on "reinforced suitcases, electric items ... food stuff or toiletries".

According to Israeli NGO Gisha, COGAT did not publish the new directives as usual, and until today neither they nor the Shin Bet, Israel's domestic intelligence and security agency, would confirm the changes.

"The ISA [Shin Bet] is responsible for the government's decision to provide professional guidance for the security of the internal and international crossings in Israel," a statement emailed to i24NEWS said.

"The security directives at the Erez Crossing have recently been implemented by the ISA, in cooperation with COGAT and the Crossings Authority, and exceptional cases and special requests are examined individually, in coordination with the relevant bodies."

The statement did not say what prompted the sudden change in regulations.

It is unclear what exactly was meant by the inclusion of 'reinforced suitcases' in the ban, although evidence from the ground seems to indicate it means commonly-sold suitcases that have a hard plastic, instead of fabric, cover.

"We heard from of our clients that they had to leave their hard-side suitcase behind and transfer their belongings to plastic bags to be able to pass through the crossing," Gisha spokesperson Shai Grunberg said on Monday.

FETHI BELAID (AFP/File)

"They also had to throw away personal items such as tooth paste ... and also perfumes and deodorants. We heard from a client who tried to pass through Erez with two mobile phones (one for work purposes, the other – personal) that he had to leave one of them behind."

"They don’t appreciate that students and businesspeople from Gaza also need to travel with laptops like anyone else in the world," Gisha wrote last week after initially publicizing COGAT's rules.

"It can happen because Israel doesn’t pay a price for inconveniencing Gaza residents, and just like that, from one day to the next, not even a sandwich can get through Erez Crossing," the NGO said.

The regulations apply to those both exiting and entering Gaza.

An Associated Press journalist was prohibited from bringing a laptop from Israel into Gaza on Sunday, the news agency reported.

Earlier this year, the United States banned electronic devices larger than mobile phones from being taken in the hand luggage of passengers flying to the US directly from several Middle Eastern airports. A similar policy was later adopted by the United Kingdom.

It was later reported that the intelligence that prompted the policy came from Israel, which had learned of plans to smuggle a bombs on-board aircraft by inserting them into a personal computer.

In April the Shin Bet said they had discovered explosive materials planted by Hamas in medical equipment being taken through Erez by two woman who had been granted permits to enter Israel in order to receive cancer treatment.

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