As Israel-Hamas Clashes Continue, Gazans Face Crisis

Mortar shells are fired from Gaza into Israel. The Israeli military urged people living near Gaza to stay inside, and officials prepared for more attacks.
Mortar shells are fired from Gaza into Israel. The Israeli military urged people living near Gaza to stay inside, and officials prepared for more attacks. (By Sebastian Scheiner -- Associated Press)
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By Linda Gradstein
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, November 15, 2008

JERUSALEM, Nov. 14 -- A five-month-old cease-fire between Israel and the armed Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip has been strained by 10 days of violence, and residents are warning of a humanitarian crisis because Israel has sealed the territory's borders.

Israeli forces and Palestinian fighters have clashed repeatedly since early this month, leaving at least 10 Hamas gunmen dead. The United Nations said Friday that it had closed its food-distribution program because it cannot resupply its warehouses and that 750,000 Palestinians who depend on U.N. aid will have to wait until Israel lets more food enter the strip.

Gaza's main power plant also ran out of fuel because of the closure, and U.N. and other aid officials warned of mounting problems.

"It is unprecedented that the U.N. is unable to get its supplies in to a population under such obvious distress," John Ging, the senior U.N. official in Gaza, said in a telephone interview.

Israeli officials said the closure is a response to Palestinian rocket and mortar fire from Gaza into Israel, which continued Friday.

The military wing of Hamas launched 11 Soviet-style Grad missiles at the Israeli city of Ashkelon, Hamas member Ayman Taha told the BBC. Israeli rescue workers said that five rockets landed in Ashkelon but that there were no reports of casualties or damage.

One rocket or mortar shell hit a house in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, one of several such attacks Friday. An Israeli was slightly wounded.

Israeli aircraft fired missiles at a target in northern Gaza, according to an army spokesman, wounding two gunmen.

European Union External Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner called on Israel to reopen the crossings in keeping with international law requiring that civilians have access to essential services, such as electricity and clean water.

"I am profoundly concerned about the consequences for the Gazan population of the complete closure of all Gaza crossings for deliveries of fuel and basic humanitarian assistance," she told the Reuters news agency.

She said 20 European members of parliament were also denied entry into Gaza this week.

The Israeli blockade has disrupted a U.N. program that feeds about half of Gaza's 1.4 million residents. Food distributed by the body's Relief and Works Agency includes flour, oil, rice, sugar and canned meat, and is meant to provide 60 percent of daily caloric needs.


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