Gazans storm Egypt border crossing

Palestinians demand Egypt open border as Israel pledges to ease siege.

    Hamas leaders met by candlelight in the
    besieged Gaza Strip [Reuters]

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    Early on Wednesday, masked Palestinian fighters detonated explosives next to the border wall separating Gaza and Egypt, causing several holes in the iron barrier, witnesses said.


    Witnessed reported seven holes in the wall but it did not seem as if anyone had immediately crossed the border, with Egyptian forces shining spotlights on the gaps and troops deployed to block any infiltration attempts at the only border crossing out of the Gaza Strip that bypasses Israel.


    Arab-Israeli siege
    Angry protesters complained that Gaza was under siege from both Israel and neighbouring Arabs.
    Um Ahmad, a Palestinian woman demonstrating at the Rafah crossing, told Al Jazeera: "The Arabs should be united with us and not against us. This is an appeal to all the Arabs. They should help us lift the blockade, they should stand with us."
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    Anger at Rafah

    Egypt called on Hamas, the faction that rules Gaza, to urge residents of the Gaza Strip to avoid further unrest.
    Hossam Zaki, the foreign ministry spokesman, expressed Egypt's "deep regret at the events witnessed at the Rafah border crossing".
    Egypt "asks those in control of the Gaza Strip to work to avoid the repetition of such a situation", he said.
    At least four Palestinians were wounded during the protest, medics said.
    Eleven Egyptian policemen were injured, including one from gunfire and the other 10 from rocks thrown at them.
    More deliveries pledged
    Gaza power

    Israel normally supplies 60 per cent of the electricity for Gaza's 1.5 million inhabitants

    Gaza needs around 240 megawatt of electricity, but normally receives only about 200 megawatts, with 8 per cent from Egypt

    Israel is the only source of industrial fuel for Gaza's power station

    Israel stopped supplying industrial fuel supplies to Gaza on January 19

    The EU pays Israel around $10m per month for Gaza's industrial fuel

    Meanwhile, amid mounting international fears of a humanitarian crisis,
    two lorries carrying cooking gas and three with diesel for generators passed through Israel's Nahal Oz border crossing, east of Gaza City, early on Tuesday morning.
    It marked the first time supplies had entered Gaza since late on Thursday, when Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, ordered the territory sealed off in response to rocket fire.
    Gaza City was plunged into darkness after its only power plant was shut down on Sunday, as fuel supplies dried up under the Israeli blockade.
    But with Israel allowing limited supply, electricity was back in most of Gaza City by Tuesday afternoon.
    Israeli tankers brought in 700,000 litres of fuel, enough to provide electricity to Gaza City for two days.

    Israel has maintained all along that Hamas created an artificial crisis but on Tuesday it pledged to continue limited shipments of fuel, food and medicine to Gaza.


    Arye Mekel, a spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry, pledged on Tuesday that the shipments would go on.


    "We will continue [on Wednesday] and the coming days to deliver more aid to Gaza until all promised supplies get across," he said.


    The Israeli defence ministry ruled late on Tuesday that 250,000 litres of diesel fuel could be transferred into Gaza daily, but the crossings would remain closed to other goods and people until further notice.

    Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, however, called on Israel to fully lift the blockade, calling a partial easing of the lockdown "insufficient".


    Palestinian rockets

    Palestinian rockets are crude homemade weapons fired by Hamas and other fighters from Gaza into Israel, with a maximum range of 10km

    The rockets have killed 10 Israelis since 2005, while more than 700 Palestinians have died in Israeli raids over the same period

    Rocket attacks have increased sharply since April 2006

    Between 2,500-3,000 settlers, out of 23,000, have fled Sderot because of the near-daily attacks

    The main impact of the rockets is psychological torment

    "This is insufficient and we will continue our efforts to get a total lifting of the blockade," Abbas told reporters in the West Bank town of Ramallah.


    However, Abbas said on Tuesday that he would not pull out of peace talks with Israel, deflecting pressure to cut off contacts.


    "Halting contacts with Israel is useless," he said in his first comment since the latest round of Israel-Hamas fighting erupted last week.


    "On the contrary, we should intensify our contacts and our meetings to stop the suffering of our people."


    The Palestinian president also renewed his criticism of rocket fire against Israel from Gaza.


    "It is not the people who fire these rockets," Abbas said. "We have condemned these futile launchings in the past and we continue to do so. They must stop."


    But Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader based in Damascus, said the rocket fire would continue as long as Israel continues its "onslaught" on Gaza and the West Bank.


    "Let Israel stop its aggression and its occupation of Palestinian land and the resistance, including rockets, will stop," he said in an interview.


    In a clash early on Wednesday with Israeli forces near the closed Sufa crossing into Gaza, a Hamas fighter was killed, Palestinian officials said.


    The Israeli military said soldiers exchanged fire with Palestinian fighters in the area.


    The impact of the blockade, which left homes in the dark, drained hospitals of power and medicine, and caused sewage to flood the streets, sparked international condemnation.


    Sparring at UN


    Israeli and Palestinian envoys meanwhile traded accusations in the UN Security Council as the 15-nation body met to discuss the Gaza crisis.


    Riyad Mansour, the permanent Palestinian observer to the United Nations, described the situation as "absolutely untenable".


    "The Israeli policy of brinkmanship is creating a humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip, heightening fears and tensions, inciting, provoking and fuelling the vicious and dreaded cycle of violence," he said.


    Gilad Cohen, the Israeli envoy, rejected Mansour's accusation that Israel was acting in violation of international law.


    "It is the duty of all states to ensure the right to life and safety of its people, especially from vicious acts of violence and terrorism," Cohen told the council. 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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