JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israel decided on Monday to ease its blockade of the impoverished Gaza Strip, allowing in some fuel and medicine, amid mounting international concern and warnings of a humanitarian crisis.
The move was welcomed by Khaled Meshaal, the exiled chief of the Islamist Hamas movement that has run the Palestinian coastal territory since it ousted forces loyal to Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas last June.
However, Meshaal reaffirmed his movement's commitment to armed struggle against Israel.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak authorised Gaza to be resupplied from Tuesday with fuel for its sole electricity plant, which was forced to shut down, and with medicine for its hospitals on Wednesday, his ministry said.
Abbas took credit for Israel's reversal and "succeeded in convincing the Israeli side to restore fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip in the coming hours," his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina told AFP.
The Damascus-based Meshaal thanked Abbas for his efforts.
"At a time when we are all facing Zionist aggression we must welcome the efforts of everyone in the West Bank and abroad," he said in an interview with Hamas-run Al-Aqsa television.
But Meshaal added that Hamas remains committed to ending the occupation.
"Our goal is to end the occupation and liberate our country. The return of electricity by degrees or in full is one step towards addressing an unjust situation, but is not what our brothers aspire to in the West Bank or in Gaza."
And after a fourth day of hardship Hamas also said its armed wing had fired more rockets at Israel.
In New York, the 15-member UN Security Council agreed to hold an emergency meeting Tuesday on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, diplomats said. The decision to hold the meeting was made during closed-door council consultations in response to a request from Arab UN ambassadors.
The European Union slammed what it termed the "collective punishment" of Gaza's 1.5 million residents, while Washington's UN ambassador said Israel has the right to defend itself but must take civilians into account.
"We do believe that rocket attacks against Israel are unacceptable, that Israel has the right to defend itself," US ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters. "But when Israel defends itself, it has to take the impact on the civilians into account."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Meshaal in a phone call to halt rocket attacks on Israel, his ministry said in a statement.
The United Nations had warned it would be forced to stop distributing food to hundreds of thousands of people unless Israel allowed in supplies.
Christopher Gunness, a spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), told AFP that Gaza faced "a desperate humanitarian situation that continues to deteriorate alarmingly."
The strip's power plant, which provides electricity to Gaza City, shut down late on Sunday after running out of fuel.
With Gaza crossings closed, the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that hospitals had only a few days' worth of fuel left for generators.
Israel earlier dismissed warnings of a humanitarian meltdown, saying Hamas was exaggerating the situation.
"As far as I'm concerned, all of Gaza's residents can walk, and have no fuel for their cars because they are governed by a murderous terrorist regime," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in remarks broadcast on army radio.
Olmert accused Hamas of deliberately intensifying the crisis "in order to create pressure from the international community on Israel."
Following Barak's decision, foreign ministry spokesman Arye Mekel told AFP later that supplies allowed in would include 2.2 million litres of fuel for the power plant, another 500,000 litres of fuel for generators and cooking gas.
Fifty truckloads of humanitarian aid, including basic food and medicine, would also be permitted to enter.
Barak ordered the crossings into Gaza closed late on Thursday, saying the move was aimed at pressuring militants to stop firing rockets and mortars at Israel.
But the armed wing of Hamas said it had fired another seven rockets and five mortar rounds on Monday.
Mahmud Zahar, the most influential Hamas leader in Gaza, vowed to continue the "resistance."
"We promise to continue on the path of jihad and resistance, whatever the sacrifices and suffering, until victory or martyrdom," Zahar, one of whose sons was killed in an Israeli incursion last week, said in a televised address.
Over the past week Israeli raids in Gaza have killed 37 people, mostly militants, while gunmen have launched some 200 rockets or mortar bombs into Israel, lightly wounding at least 10 people.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »