World News

Israel to allow 24-hour West Bank crossing

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel said on Wednesday it would allow a crossing between the occupied West Bank and Jordan to remain open 24 hours a day to help the Palestinian economy.

“The prime minister has ordered an immediate and significant extension of opening hours of the Allenby Bridge crossing for imports and exports in order to increase business activity and improve the lives of Palestinians,” an official statement said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told reporters the crossing, named after General Edmund Allenby, the British commander in colonial Palestine after World War One, would be open 24 hours a day.

The Palestinian Authority has demanded the Allenby terminal operate around the clock. Until now it has been open for passenger and commercial traffic for 12 hours a day during the working week and seven hours a day at weekends.

Nazmi Mhanna, director of border crossings in the Palestinian Authority, said a 24-hour commercial schedule would “increase the volume of exports and imports, which will boost the economy.”

A spokesman for Tony Blair, representative of the Quartet of Middle East negotiators -- the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations -- welcomed the step, saying it “reflects the spirit of our proposals for transformative change in the West Bank.”

The Israeli-controlled terminal leading to the Allenby Bridge across the Jordan River is the West Bank’s only land link to the Arab world.

Palestinians have complained that strict Israeli security checks hamper the transfer of goods to and from Jordan. They say long waiting hours in the sun damage agricultural produce, causing losses and discouraging trade.

About 16,422 shipments went through Allenby last year, a 45 percent increase from 2007, Israeli data showed. They consisted mainly of agricultural goods and building materials.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said shoring up the Palestinian economy in the West Bank would be a goal of his right-leaning government and help spur peace efforts.

The statement said Israel was ready to provide water, electricity and other infrastructure support to three internationally funded projects in the West Bank. So far the Palestinian Authority has not made such demands, it said.

The projects were a German-sponsored industrial park near Jenin, a Japanese-backed programme to process and export agricultural products from Jericho, near the Dead Sea, to the Gulf, and a French-funded light industry zone at Bethlehem.

“Some of the projects have been stalled for many years and it was decided at a meeting this morning to focus on removing obstacles and promoting them,” said the statement, issued by Netanyahu’s office.

Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Andrew Dobbie