11/19/2008, 00.00
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Gaza border closed, humanitarian aid at risk

Israel shuts down Gaza crossings again after briefly letting in supplies of food and medicine. The international community wants Israel not to worsen the humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile Hamas continues to launch its rockets.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) – “The crossings are shut because of ongoing rocket fire” against Israel, Peter Lerner, a defence ministry spokesman, said today, reaffirming Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Enforced since June 2007 the blockade has kept Gaza isolated despite temporary concessions on humanitarian grounds.

On Monday Israel had allowed food supplies and fuel into Gaza but as a result of the ongoing firing of Qassam rockets Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak closed the crossings again. The Israeli military also announced that Brigadier General Eyal Eisenberg would take over the Gaza command on Wednesday, replacing Brigadier General Moshe Tamir, who had commanded the division for two years.

Two days ago Israel allowed 33 truckloads of supplies, including medicine, into Gaza for the first time in two weeks. International aid agencies said that the supplies sent in were not enough to ease food shortages. In fact humanitarian agencies have not been allowed into the Strip since 4 November when cross-border fighting between the Israeli army and Hamas forces broke out.

Although some supplies were let in, including those by UNRWA, the United Nations agency that aids some 750,000 refugees in Gaza, residents of the Strip and humanitarian agencies have also complained about the lack of electrical power.

Even if Israel has allowed fuel in to supply Gaza's main power plant, the situation is not improving; periodic electricity blackouts are part of everyday life for most of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the territory.

Yesterday Israeli tanks pushed 400 metres into the southern Gaza Strip, followed by military jeeps and bulldozers, drawing Hamas rocket fire but without Israeli forces firing back.

The Israeli military described the action along the border east of the city of Rafah near the Egyptian border as “a routine operation to uncover explosive devices.”

Israel and Gaza's ruling Islamic militant Hamas movement have been trading fire for two weeks after nearly five months of relative quiet since a truce was reached on 19 June.

According to Israel’s military, at least 17 Palestinian militants have been killed since the truce began unravelling. Militants have instead fired more than 140 rockets and mortars at Israeli sites along the border.

Israel’s actions have been met by international disapproval. United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon phoned Israeli Prime Minister Olmert on Tuesday to say he was deeply concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and urged Israel to avoid worsening the situation in which Gazans live.

“He strongly urged the prime minister to facilitate the freer movement of urgently needed humanitarian supplies and of concerned United Nations personnel into Gaza,” the UN press office said in a statement.

But for analysts the current situation is a sign that the two sides are trying to prepare the ground for talks next month on renewing the truce. Both Hamas and Israel want to reach the negotiating table from a position of strength in order to get better truce conditions. At the same time there is no consensus on either side.

Within Hamas views differ over the ongoing clashes. Spokesman for Hamas-run Interior Ministry, Ihab al-Ghussein, accused Israel of subverting the truce, which he is dead for him.

Another top Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, said he wanted the truce maintained, as long as crossings into Gaza were reopened.

In israel opinions are also split. For the Jerusalem Post statements from various political leaders are like the Tower of Babel.

The enemy must be befuddled,” it wrote as a new wave of Qassam rockets landed on Israel. The trouble is that the “bluster and contradictory pronouncements emanating from Israel's top echelon haven't been made to confuse the enemy’ but “are sadly indicative of our disarray. [. . .] Now, nothing is more disheartening to Israel's citizenry than to witness such disunity when the country is under attack.”

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See also
UN accuses Israel of deliberately targeting its installations in Gaza
Israel rejects (for now) truce proposal in Gaza as “unrealistic”
Israel letting some humanitarian aid into Gaza
Israel warns Gaza operation has no set timeframe
Israel and Hamas studying Egyptian truce proposal as the number of dead rises


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