A number of US congressmen have written to President Barack Obama, urging him to pressure Israel to ease the blockade of the Gaza Strip over humanitarian concerns.
"We ask you to press for immediate relief for the citizens of Gaza as an urgent component of your broader Middle East peace efforts," said a letter signed by 54 lawmakers.
The impoverished coastal sliver has been under an Israeli blockade since June 2007. The siege has hampered the ability of relief agencies to distribute much needed aid amongst some 1.5 million people.
The congressmen sympathized with Israel over what they described as threats from Palestinian activists in Gaza but said the blockade has resulted in "the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip."
The letter written by Democrat Representatives Jim McDermott from Washington and Keith Ellison from Minnesota was also signed by several leftist organizations, including Americans for Peace Now and J Street.
They called for facilitation of movement into and out of Gaza, while urging Israel to allow the import of building materials for the reconstruction of homes and infrastructure devastated during Israel’s January 2008 offensive, which killed far more than 1,400 Palestinians.
The letter prompted a response by the Israeli Embassy in Washington. It said the blockade would stand "as long as Hamas continues to attack Israel with missiles and other means."
"Israel will not allow a neighbor that calls for its destruction to enjoy the benefits of an open border," it stressed.
Tel Aviv is irked by missiles and rockets fired into southern Israel from Gaza. The projectiles normally land in deserted areas and hardly cause any casualties or damage to properties.
The missiles are, Palestinians say, a response to Israeli airstrikes, murder and abduction of Gazans, and the ongoing siege of the coastal strip.