The United States broke an 18-month boycott this week with visits by American diplomats to the Gaza Strip. The boycott was imposed in the wake of a terror attack perpetrated against a U.S. diplomatic convoy in October 2003 when three American security guards were killed as a roadside bomb exploded south of the Erez crossing.

To date, the Palestinian Authority has yet to arrest the individuals involved in the attack, despite repeated American demands for it to do so.

Over the past week, however, a number of American diplomats, as well as security personnel, have visited the Gaza Strip. The diplomats and security personnel traveled to the Strip to prepare the ground for the visit of James Wolfensohn, the Quartet's envoy charged with overseeing the Israeli pullout who is expected in Gaza soon.

Meanwhile, both Israeli and Palestinian security sources confirmed Wednesday that the PA had not taken any new steps whatsoever with regard to the perpetrators of the October 2003 attack, despite the fact that the identity of those responsible is believed to be known. The perpetrators of the attack are thought to be members of the Popular Resistance Committees, a faction that broke away from Fatah and is led by Jamal Abu-Samhadne.

The suspension of the boycott regarding visits to the Strip came hand-in-hand with another step Wednesday on the part of the United States. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), an independent federal government agency, Wednesday handed over four oxygen generators to hospitals in the Strip.

The generators, valued in total at some $500,000, produce a mixture of air with a high concentration of oxygen for medical purposes. Hospitals in the Gaza Strip suffer from a chronic shortage of oxygen canisters.

The donation was handed over to the PA at the initiative of the government's coordinator in the territories, Major General Yosef Mishlav.

Since the October 2003 terror attack, the United States has kept a tight rein on the scope of its direct aid to the Strip, including assistance in the medical field.

The generators will be set up at the hospital in Beit Hanun, in the north of the Strip, at Dura Hospital in Gaza City, at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis and at Tel Sultan Hospital in Rafah. They were transported Wednesday to Gaza through the Karni crossing.

Mishlav, meanwhile, paid a visit to the Karni crossing Wednesday to oversee the Civil Administration's preparations ahead of the disengagement. Israel plans to speed up the delivery of goods to the Strip over the coming period in light of concerns that during the disengagement, such operations could be impeded.

The Karni crossing's opening hours have been extended recently.