Gaza Strip: Crisis worsens despite Israel's new fuel pledge

Gaza, 21 Jan. (AKI) - International humanitarian groups are predicting a worsening crisis in the Gaza Strip despite a pledge by an Israeli minister late Monday to resume sending fuel supplies to the territory.

Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak promised to allow medical supplies as well as diesel fuel to be shipped to the Gaza Strip for essential power supplies from Tuesday.

But organisations including the United Nations relief agency warned of a worsening crisis while the area remained without power, heat or light.

Amid predictions that more than a million people would soon be without safe drinking water, there were reports of raw sewage spilling into the streets because there was no electricity to fuel the local pump station.

The Gaza power plant shut down its two working turbines on Sunday, leaving much of Gaza in darkness, after Israel closed border crossings on Friday.

Hospitals dependent on vital diesel supplies were also predicting that they would run out of fuel within hours and then be forced to make crucial life or death decisions for their patients.

John Ging, director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza said the civilian population was living in "abject misery" and had been stripped of their human dignity.

"People here in Gaza have been living in abject misery and hardship now for a long time," Ging told the Arab TV network, Al-Jazeera. "On top of that they are living in darkness.

"You have to see how miserable the situation is. The civilian population is under occupation. It is collective punishment - they are victims."

"What we need is action and it starts with civilians."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Israel would not allow Gaza to slide into a humanitarian crisis but later said that gas-deprived Gaza residents "can walk".

"As far as I'm concerned, all the residents of Gaza can walk and have no fuel for their cars, because they have a murderous terrorist regime that doesn't allow people in the south of Israel to live in peace," the prime minister said in a TV broadcast.

Amr Moussa, the Arab League chief, called Israel's action a "war crime" and urged the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the United States to intervene and put pressure on Israel.

"The quartet must immediately move to stop the series of aggressions and to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza in order to end the humanitarian crisis," Moussa said.

Meanwhile, Egyptian president,Hosni Mubarak, telephoned Olmert to stress "the need to stop the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people" and to warn him of an impending crisis.

The Islamist Hamas movement which controls Gaza also called for international intervention.

Hamas, labelled a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and the European Union, also fears there will be an escalation of Israeli raids in the territory.

Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005, but it still controls the territory's borders and supplies.

The Israeli military claims more than 200 rockets and mortars have hit Israel from Gaza since an Israeli operation against militants on Tuesday left 18 Palestinians dead.


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