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Virginia Syvan, Ina Friedman (reporting)

Recipe for Disaster

Only three of the five checking stations were open when we arrived at 5:30. The lines were long (half way to the road) and the progress forward agonizingly slow. No matter how you look at it, this is a recipe for disaster. And on top of it all, the soldier responsible for operating the turnstiles at the end of the three “cages” opened them only one at a time, and did not always open all three in succession, which naturally heightened the tension and anger of the people waiting on line. We immediately called the DCO line to ask that someone call the soldier and brief her on how to operate the turnstiles properly -- that is, all three at once  -- and eventually that message got through. But for the meanwhile, two of the checking stations remained closed, one of them until 6:15. And by then, of course, the damage had already been done, in a big way.

At 6:00 we walked outside to observe how the changes in the lanes leading into the vehicle checkpoint (among other things, the removal of a small island that had always managed to create chaos) affected the flow of traffic. While we were standing there, at 6:08, the lines into the pedestrian checkpoint collapsed and immediately gave way to the familiar and despairing scene of the frustrated crowds pushing their way into the narrow “cages” and being squashed inside them.

As for the vehicles, the change in the lane leading into the checkpoint has definitely improved the flow of traffic and is worthy of kudos. It’s amazing how simple a change (destroying that island) has had such a major effect  -- and how long it took to make it. Last year tear gas was used (!) to break up the traffic jam by that spot.

Also, what we described in an earlier report as a traffic circle in a road yet to be paved through what used to be the parking lot of the pedestrian checkpoint now seems more like an area for buses to stop and then return in the direction from which they came after discharging their passengers.

While the melee continued at the entrances to the cages, the Humanitarian Gate was opened at 6:20, to the crowd that had begun gathering by it since 6:00, and was operated smoothly until close to 8:00.

Starting at 6:30, we could see attempts to re-form the lines, although the crush at the entrance to the cages continued. We joined one of these at 7:10 and waited in line for an hour, most of the time in conversation with one of the men standing alongside us, before reaching the checking station and traversing it without incident.