Israel Renews Blockade of Gaza Crossings

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered Israel’s crossings to remain closed on Wednesday after militants in the Gaza Strip continued to fire rockets against southern Israel on Tuesday, a defense official said.

Hamas gunmen fired mortar bombs at Israeli soldiers searching for explosives near the Gaza border fence on Tuesday, the Israeli military and Hamas said. There were no reported casualties from that incident.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday conveyed to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert his concern about the plight of people in Gaza and urged him ease the delivery of humanitarian aid in the territory, his office said.

"The secretary-general today telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to express his deep concern over the consequences of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza," the office said in a statement.

"He strongly urged the prime minister to facilitate the free movement of urgently needed humanitarian supplies and of concerned United Nations personnel into Gaza," it added.

"The Israeli Prime Minister denounced the continuing rocket fire into Israel from Gaza, but agreed to look seriously into the urgent matter raised by the secretary-general," the statement concluded.
Humanitarian Supplies

Food distribution to half the Gaza Strip’s 1.5 million population resumed on Tuesday, although the United Nations warned aid supplies would soon run out unless Israel eases its crippling blockade.

"Distribution will go on of the very small amount we brought in on Monday," said U.N. Relief and Works Agency spokesman Chris Gunness.

"The supplies will last days, not weeks," he told AFP.

Crowds rushed to the UNRWA distribution centers to try to get hold of the limited supplies of flour, sugar, rice, powdered milk and luncheon meat.

Israel had allowed 33 truckloads of supplies into Gaza for the first time in two weeks on Monday, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas he would not permit a humanitarian crisis to develop there.

Israel has also held up fuel shipments to Gaza’s main power plant, leading to periodic electricity blackouts each day for many of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the territory.
Collapsed Truce

Until Monday, Israel had not allowed UNRWA, a United Nations agency that aids some 750,000 refugees in Gaza, to bring in supplies since Nov. 4 during cross-border fighting in which more than a dozen Palestinian fighters were killed.

Several Israelis have been slightly wounded by dozens of rockets fired by gunmen after Israeli raids.

In talks with Olmert in Jerusalem on Monday, Abbas urged Israel to abide by a 5-month-old Egyptian-brokered truce with Hamas, a deal which has neared collapse in the past two weeks of fighting.

Hamas accuses Israel of failing to deliver on its side of the bargain.

Nearly every day for the past two weeks, Israeli forces and Gaza militants have engaged in tit-for-tat attacks, which have left 15 Palestinians dead. 

The Israeli parliament is to return from its winter recess to hold a special session on the Gaza violence next Monday, a spokesman said.


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