Four days earlier, Hamas, the ruling party in Gaza, had broken open a border wall, allowing hundreds of thousands of Palestinianshalf of Gazas populationto cross into Egypt to purchase food, fuel, and other basic supplies that have been in short supply because of severe restrictions imposed by Tel Aviv.
In January 2006 the governments of Israel and Egypt sharply restricted movement of people and goods at the border with Gaza after elections in which Hamas defeated Fatah, the organization of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. The restrictions were tightened into a virtual blockade later that year after Hamas expelled Fatah from Gaza in fighting between the two Palestinian groups.
Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) calls for the establishment of an Islamic republic in Palestine and has refused to recognize the Israeli regime. Fatah, the wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization led by Yasser Arafat until his death in 2004, had been the ruling party in the Palestinian Authority (PA) since its founding in 1994. Abbas supports Washingtons proposed road map to peace and has joined U.S.-sponsored negotiations with Tel Aviv.
In response to a suit filed by Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups to end the blockade, the Israeli government said it would supply industrial diesel fuel needed to run Gazas main electrical power station but not enough to prevent power outages.
The lack of fuel has meant 40 percent of Gazas 1.5 million people are without running water. Untreated sewage is being dumped into the Mediterranean, according to United Nations reports. The Gaza enclave is dependent on Israel for 70 percent of its electricity.
The Israeli policy of collective punishment has made already intolerable conditions worse. Gaza bakers have stopped bread production for lack of flour or cooking fuel, reported Al Jazeera TV. Fewer meat and dairy products are available because there is no power for refrigeration. The price of meat doubled in 10 days, the TV station said.
The blockade of Gaza has resulted in a shortage of 88 essential drugs and 204 needed medical supplies, according to the World Health Organization. In Shifa hospital some 135 cancer patients cannot be treated due to lack of medications, the British-based relief group Oxfam said.
Moaiya Hassanain, a health ministry official in Gaza, said that because of the power shortages hospitals are having to choose between cutting electricity in the maternity ward, reducing heart surgeries, or closing operating rooms altogether.
Israel halted deliveries of food, fuel, and other supplies for four days in January. It said the action was in response to rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israel.
Hamas responded January 23 by blowing up part of the Israeli-built border wall, allowing thousands of Palestinians to cross into Egypt from Gaza to purchase basic supplies.
A few days later Israeli warplanes bombed what it called installations of the Hamas armed wing, the al-Qassam Brigades. The strike occurred near the border town of Rafah, where the border wall had been blown up.
In addition to the economic restrictions, the Israeli military conducts routine air strikes and raids in Gaza. Five Palestinians were killed in an air strike on January 25. Another 7 Palestinians were killed and 10 wounded in three air strikes January 17. A Hamas health ministry official said 33 Palestinians had been killed in Israeli air strikes in three days.
Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak vowed that the airstrikes would continue and be expanded until Hamas stopped firing rockets into Israel. An aide to Palestinian president Abbas said the Israeli actions could undermine peace negotiations between the PA and Israel.
Abbas is attempting to take this opportunity to regain some control in Gaza by reestablishing a previous agreement between Tel Aviv, Cairo, the PA, and the European Union, under which the PA would patrol the border crossing from Gaza along with Egyptian border guards.
The Arab League foreign ministers are supporting the effort by Abbas to regain control of the border crossing. But Hamas security forces have begun patrolling the crossing with Egyptian border guards. A Hamas spokesperson said the organization cannot be left out of any new border arrangement.
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home