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Israel rejects U.N. appeal on Gaza

November 21, 2008|Richard Boudreaux | Boudreaux is a Times staff writer.

JERUSALEM — For the second time this week, Israel on Thursday resisted a plea by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip and urged the world to condemn Palestinian rocket attacks instead.

Gazans have endured shortages of electricity and some staples since a 5-month-old cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls the enclave, began to unravel Nov. 4.

Since then Defense Minister Ehud Barak has kept Israel's border with Gaza closed, with a few exceptions, arguing that the soldiers required to supervise them would be easy targets for rocket fire.

Secretary-General Ban telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert this week to call for passage of trucks from two U.N. agencies that feed about two-thirds of Gaza's 1.5 million people. He phoned again Thursday to make the same appeal to Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who has taken over from Olmert as head of the Kadima party.

Livni told him militants must stop their fire first.

"Whoever thinks that a situation of them firing at us, while everything continues as usual, can exist is mistaken," her office said in a statement. "The international community must be more decisive in making itself heard, and in using its influence, in the face of these attacks."

Despite the cease-fire violations -- the firing of more than 170 rockets and mortar rounds into Israel by Palestinian militants and small-scale Israeli incursions that have killed 15 militants -- neither side has renounced the truce.

In an unusual meeting in Jordan this week, King Abdullah II warned Olmert and Barak that a large-scale military operation in Gaza would destabilize the Middle East.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad announced Thursday that they were ready to halt the attacks if Israel opened the crossings and stopped the incursions. The attacks from Gaza tapered off Thursday; the Israeli army counted just one incoming rocket, which caused no harm.

U.N. officials say the security threat posed by the latest rounds of rocket and mortar fire, which have caused few injuries and no deaths, does not justify such tight restrictions. Because Israel controls most access points to Gaza, they say, it is obligated under international law to try to maintain essential services for civilians.

Israeli restrictions have left the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, the larger of the two U.N. suppliers of humanitarian aid, with only enough food to last through this weekend.

A shortfall in deliveries of industrial diesel purchased from Israel has kept Gaza's only power plant shut for most of the last week. Blackouts last up to 20 hours a day in Gaza City, where electricity from other sources is being rationed.

On Wednesday, the territory's largest flour mill shut down when it ran out of grain; 27 of Gaza's 47 bakeries were reported closed Thursday. Many Gazans baked bread at home from U.N.-supplied flour.

Hamas suspended welfare payments to 98,000 Gazans after shipments of cash from the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank were turned back.

Israeli officials say the accounts of shortages are exaggerated to stir sympathy for Gaza. Yet for two weeks the same officials, citing security concerns, have barred reporters from entering Gaza.

Executives of 15 international media groups, including The Times, have signed a letter to Olmert protesting the rare restriction on journalists.

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boudreaux@latimes.com

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Special correspondent Rushdi abu Alouf in Gaza City contributed to this report.

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