Israel outraged at UN remarks urging end to Gaza blockade

Israel reacted angrily to comments made Tuesday by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in which she called for an immediate end to its blockade of the Gaza Strip, which she said breached international and humanitarian law.

In a statement from her Geneva-based office, Pillay urged Israel to allow the flow of aid including food, medicines and fuel to resume, and to restore electricity and water services in the Hamas-controlled territory.

Pillay was also quoted as saying that 1.5 million Palestinian men, women and children have been forcibly deprived of their most basic human rights for months.

She also called for Israel to end airstrikes and incursions in Gaza, and for Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets into Israel.

Israel imposed a blockade of Gaza after the Islamic group Hamas violently seized control of the territory in June 2006. It recently tightened the sanctions because of rocket fire at Israeli towns.

Pillay’s demands provoked an angry response from Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Aharon Leshno-Yaar, who accused her of being utterly shortsighted and repeating blatant misinformation.

“Overall responsibility for the situation in the Gaza Strip lies with Hamas, which invests all of its resources in arms and terrorism instead of providing for the civilians that it brutally controls,” Aharon Leshno-Yaar said, adding that Palestinian groups had fired more 170 rockets and mortars at Israel during the past 10 days.

Leshno-Yaar also rejected Pillay’s claim that Israel has cut off essential supplies to Gaza.

“Electricity and water continue to flow from Israel to Gaza, and 33 trucks laden with supplies arrived in Gaza yesterday, with more waiting to enter as soon as Hamas ends its violent attacks,” he said.

Earlier Tuesday, Israel resealed border crossings with the Gaza Strip, citing continued rocket fire at its towns, despite warnings from world aid groups of looming shortages of food and fuel supplies in the coastal territory.

Israel had allowed supplies into Gaza for the first time in two weeks on Monday, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert assured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas he would not permit a humanitarian crisis to develop there.

“The crossings are shut because of ongoing rocket fire,” Peter Lerner, a defense spokesman said, referring to several barrages of rockets fired from Gaza on Monday that slammed into Israeli towns, causing no injury.

International aid groups said the supplies sent in on Monday were not enough to alleviate food shortages.

Israel has also held up fuel shipments to Gaza’s main power plant, leading to daily periodic electricity blackouts for many of 1.5 million Palestinians living in the territory.

Israel had not allowed UNRWA, a United Nations agency that aids some 750,000 refugees in Gaza, to bring in supplies since Nov. 4 during cross-border fighting in which more than a dozen Palestinian militants were killed.

Several Israelis have been lightly wounded by dozens of rockets fired by gunmen after the Israel Defense Forces raids.

Palestinians: IDF tanks roll into the southern Gaza Strip

IDF tanks forged into the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, drawing rocket and mortar fire from Palestinian militants, militant groups said, intensifying violence that has chipped away at a tenuous cease-fire.

Israel and Hamas have been trading fire for two weeks after nearly five months of relative quiet. The June 19 truce is due to expire next month, and both sides might be trying to dictate more favorable terms in anticipation of the agreement’s renewal.

The tanks, backed by a bulldozer and military jeep, rumbled about a half a kilometer deep into the tiny seaside strip, residents and Gaza security officials said. Residents said they leveled lands along the border east of the city of Rafah. It was the first ground action in a week.

The IDF described the activity as a routine operation to uncover
explosive devices near the border fence in the southern Gaza Strip.
It said two mortars were fired at troops, causing no injuries or damage.

The tanks did not respond to the Palestinian fire.

By the army’s count, militants have fired more than 140 rockets and mortars at Israel since the truce began unraveling.

At least 17 militants have been killed over the past two weeks, and Israel in an effort to squelch the rocket fire, has kept cargo crossings into Gaza clamped shut for the most part, drastically restricting vital supplies.

Both Israel and leaders of Gaza’s ruling Islamic militant Hamas movement have said they hoped the Egyptian-brokered truce could be preserved. But a small, Hamas-allied group said they consider the truce to have broken down, and Israel has threatened to hit hard if the rocket fire persists.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry accused Israel of subverting the truce.

“We call on the Palestinian factions to meet to begin an immediate re-evaluation of the calm,” spokesman Ihab al-Ghussein said.

ReF: Haartez

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