Israel agrees to lift aid ban on Gaza Strip for one day
Defense Ministry sources say move is one-time easing of blockade, not change in government's policy.
Vowing not to allow a humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip, but blaming Hamas for the current situation, Israel agreed Monday to allow some fuel and medicine shipments into the besieged territory.
The decision followed growing international pressure at what was described as an imminent humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, after Israel stepped up the embargo on the Hamas-controlled territory following massive rocket barrages in recent days, which targeted Israeli communities bordering the Strip.
"We will not allow a humanitarian crisis in Gaza," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a Kadima Knesset faction meeting Monday. "But we have no intention of making their lives easier... as far as I am concerned, every resident of Gaza can walk because they have no gasoline for their vehicles, because they have a murderous regime that doesn't let people in southern Israel live in peace," he warned.
In response to the Qassam rocket attacks, Israel cut fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip, causing power outages.
Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided to allow the European Union to resume deliveries of industrial fuel to the power plant in Gaza as well as diesel and butane gas used for cooking.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman said restrictions would remain in place on gasoline used for cars.
The decision followed warnings by international agencies that Gaza hospitals would run out of drugs and generator fuel in a few days unless Israel allowed goods through border crossings which have been closed since the end of last week.
"We hope Hamas has got the message," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel, citing a recent decline in the number of rocket attacks. "When they want to reduce the number of rockets, they can do it."
Sources at the Defense Ministry said that the decision only allowed minimal fuel supplies and medicine to go through to Gaza.
The same sources reiterated that this is a one-time only easing of the blockade, and should not be interpreted as a change in Israel's policy.
"The message we wanted to send was received in Gaza. On Thursday some 40 rockets were fired against Israel from the Strip, and today... just a few. The military and economic pressure seems to be having an effect and if the shooting of Qassam rockets picks up again, we will not hesitate to reimpose a full blockade," a source in Barak's office said Monday.
Defense establishment officials rejected in recent days claims by the Palestinians that Israel is responsible for a humanitarian crisis in the Strip following the closing of the border crossings. They also rejected accusations that the tightening of the blockade plunged the Gaza Strip into darkness.
In recent days, the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip made emotional appeals to the Arab world, and demanded that Egypt open its border with Gaza to allow in supplies.
While it is unlikely that Egypt will heed Hamas calls to open the Sinai border, not wishing to grant Hamas a victory, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called Barak and urged him to ease restrictions.
Hamas organized a number of protests in the Strip Monday, with doctors and nurses at the border crossings. In the West Bank cities of Hebron and Bethlehem, as well as in East Jerusalem, Palestinians held protests to express their solidarity with Gaza Strip residents.
International aid organizations also warned yesterday that they would have to suspend their operations if they had no fuel for their trucks.
"International food aid may have to be suspended by the weekend," said Chris Gunness, spokesman of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza.
The World Food Program, which gives food to some 270,000 Gaza residents, said it would suspend distribution by Thursday because distribution trucks would run out of fuel.
Monday, Gaza City residents lined up outside the few open bakeries.
"I'm going to buy something that my family can keep for only two days because there is no electricity and no refrigerator," said Mohammed Salman. "We cannot keep anything longer than that."