01/22/2008, 00.00
ISRAEL – PALESTINE
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Embargo against Gaza eases as UN holds special session

by Joshua Lapide
Israel bows to international pressures and allows fuel, cooking gas and medicines to enter the Strip. Fewer missiles are launched against its southern towns. Arab League gets a Security Council meeting.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – In an apparent concession to international pressures Israel has allowed the delivery of fuel and cooking gas to the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, easing the embargo imposed yesterday meant to stem the barrage of Qassam missiles launched against its towns along the Gaza border. However, the apprehended humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territory still tops the international agenda as the United Nations Security Council addresses the issue upon suggestion of the Arab League.

Five Israeli tanker trucks parked at the Nahal Oz crossing on the Gaza border pumped 700,000 litres of fuel, enough to provide electricity to Gaza City for two days. Three more trucks delivered cooking gas, and a shipment of medicine was to be delivered later in the day. All in all, Israel has promised three fuel deliveries over three days, for a total of 2.2 million litres, enough to keep the power plant running for a week.

The decision followed growing international pressure at what was described as an imminent humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Because of the power station’s shutdown, hospitals had to stop using some equipment and cancel operations with the results that some patients died.

“We will not allow a humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said. “But we have no intention of making their lives easier . . . as far as I am concerned, every resident of Gaza can walk because they have no gasoline for their vehicles, because they have a murderous regime that doesn't let people in southern Israel live in peace,” he warned.

Yesterday Defence Minister Ehud Barak also decided to allow the European Union to resume deliveries of industrial fuel to the power plant in Gaza as well as diesel and butane gas used for cooking.

Defence Ministry sources should not be interpreted as a change in Israel's policy, Israeli daily Haaretz noted. Ministry sources said in fact that the blockade reduced the number of rockets launched at Sderot and other Israeli towns. Compared to last week when some 40 rockets were fired against Israel from the Strip in one day, yesterday they were just a few.

This said the blockade of the Strip over the past seven months is having devastating effects on the Palestinian population. Soap, spare parts, cement and, since yesterday, electricity are in scarce supply in the territory. Also 40 per cent of Gaza homes have no running water.

The UN Security Council will meet today to discuss the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. The meeting was suggested by the Arab League

The 15-member council is expected to demand that Israel re-open all border crossings into Gaza. One proposal making the rounds is to hand over control over the crossings to the Palestinian National Authority.

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