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Collective Punishment Is Not the Answer


Because Gaza suffers under Israeli blockade:

Gazans flood into Egypt and rush to buy food

350,000 Gazans stream into Egypt as militants blast border wall

Security forces did not confront Palestinians who crossed over into Egypt

Mubarak: Gazans allowed in because they are starving

Hamas: Border must be controlled exclusively by Palestinians, Egypt

Some 350,000 Palestinians poured out of Gaza and into Egypt early Wednesday 22 January 2008, the United Nations said, after masked gunmen blew dozens of holes in the wall delineating the border. The Gazans rushed to purchase food, fuel, and other supplies made scarce by Israel's blockade of the Strip, after militants detonated 17 bombs in the early morning hours, destroying some two-thirds of the metal wall separating the Gaza Strip from Egypt.

The scenes came on the sixth day of a blockade of Gaza, imposed by Israel and backed by Egypt, in response to a spike in rocket attacks on Israeli border towns.

Before dawn on Wednesday, Palestinian fighters set off at least 15 explosions on the wall running through Rafah separating the two territories, Hamas security forces said.

Hamas did not take responsibility for knocking the border wall down, but Hamas militants quickly took control of the frontier, as Egyptian border guards took no action.The security forces later closed most holes, but left two open to allow the flow of human traffic.

Others walked unhindered over the toppled metal plates that once made up the border wall, carrying goats, chickens and crates of Coke. Some brought back televisions and car tires, and one man bought a motorcycle. Vendors sold soft drinks and baked goods to the crowds. 

Hamas' Damascus-based political leader Khaled Meshal said Wednesday that his organization would be willing to work to resolve the chaotic situation on the Gaza-Egypt border, but only if the border were placed under exclusive Palestinian and Egyptian control. Meshal said Hamas was willing to work with Egypt and his rivals in the Palestinian Authority on bringing order to border area. "The most important standard for lifting the siege on Gaza is that the Rafah crossing be opened and be purely under the Palestinians and Egyptians without any blackmail," he said.  "We don't want to control anything. We want liberty and relief for our Palestinian people," he said.

Under a 2006 agreement after Israel pulled out of Gaza, the Palestinian Authority was left in charge of the crossings but with monitors from the European Union supervising. Israel also had cameras and computers installed there to monitor and vet who should cross.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced Wednesday that he had ordered his troops to allow Palestinians to cross into Egypt from Gaza because they were starving. "when Palestinians began breaking through the Gaza-Egypt border at Rafah in force, he told his men to let them in to buy food before escorting them out. he said. "I told them to let them come in and eat and buy food and then return them later as long as they were not carrying weapons," he added, in answer to reporters' questions. The Palestinians in Gaza are starving due to the Israeli siege," he said. "Egyptians troops accompanied them to buy food and then allowed them to return to the Gaza Strip."  He said Egypt did not intend to withdraw its ambassador from Israel in protest of the blockade of Gaza. "If that happened, I wouldn't be able to talk to the Israelis. One has to be reasonable in such matters," he added.

The security establishment was quick on Monday to boast of the success of its tactic of escalation against Gaza: Look, the number of Qassams declined. By the time these lines are published, the security establishment may spin another logical axiom: Since we renewed the supply of diesel fuel on a one-time basis, the Palestinians have gone back to firing Qassams. The conclusion: Continue the escalation. The logic of escalation is the middle name of the current defense minister, Ehud Barak, and many Israelis are adopting it.

Israel imposed a full closure on the Gaza Strip . Israel prime minister Barak was intends to keep the crossings into the Gaza Strip permanently closed except when it is necessary to provide for emergency humanitarian needs. Israel said Wednesday it expects Egypt abide by its agreements and solve the crisis. "It is the responsibility of Egypt to ensure that the border operates properly, according to the signed agreements," said Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Amira Hass, an Israeli reporter in Haaretz wrote: "Barak was prime minister in September 2000, when the Israel Defense Forces responded with escalation to popular demonstrations against the Israeli occupier and to the throwing of stones: lethal fire against civilians, among them many children. Not surprisingly, the Palestinians did not understand the lesson and turned to escalation tactics of their own. That is how we reached the point where we are now - homemade rockets of all kinds, which become even developed, the more Israel escalates its punishment measures in response to them."  "The shortsightedness of those who support escalation allows them to watch television broadcasts from Gaza - of children crying and spokesmen pleading or raging - and feel these are signs that the current escalation is working. They do not see beyond the screen. They do not see the mutual help, the resourcefulness and the humor people are showing, the stubborness and the political and popular pressure on their Egyptian neighbor." She added  and ended by: "Those who champion escalation ignore the fact that hermetic closure of all crossings into Gaza reminds the world what it loves to forget: Israel is the occupier. The aggressor. The learning disabled and the short-sighted do not see the moral - and not just security - bankruptcy of the escalation policy. Others will do that in their place."

Gisha, an Israeli group that has fought the fuel cutbacks in Israel's supreme court, said: "Punishing Gaza's 1.5 million civilians does not stop the rocket fire - it only creates an impossible 'balance' of human suffering on both sides of the border." Oxfam, the British charity, called the blockade "ineffective as well as unlawful."

UNRWA, the UN organisation supporting Palestinian refugees, also warned the shortages would drastically affect essential services. "The logic of this defies basic humanitarian standards," Christopher Gunness, UNRWA spokesman, said. The UN has also criticised Israel, saying it should not collectively punish Gaza's population while responding to security threats.  On foot, in cars or riding donkey carts, the Palestinians went on a massive shopping spree, buying cigarettes, plastic bottles of fuel, and other items that have become scarce and expensive.

Also on Tuesday 21, Israeli and Palestinian envoys 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 UN, described the situation as "absolutely untenable". He said: "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." Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to the UN, said the draft in its current form was "unacceptable"  because "it does not talk about the rocket attacks on innocent Israelis."

The one-and-a-half million Palestinians in Gaza are struggling to cope amid power cuts as Israel continues its fuel blockade of the territory. The shutdown of Gaza's only power plant has prompted fears of a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip. Gaza City awoke on Monday to find bread shops and petrol stations closed. Gazans said that they were eating less meat and dairy products since they had no power for refrigerators. The price of meat has doubled in 10 days.  On the ground, two lorries carrying cooking gas and three with diesel for generators passed through Israel's  border crossing, east of Gaza City, early on Tuesday the 21st. 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. 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.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Israel to avoid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza by finding different ways to punish Hamas. Rice spoke to reporters aboard her plane en route to Germany, where she will meet with her counterparts from Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China to discuss a new round of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.  "We have spoken to the Israelis about the importance of not allowing humanitarian crisis to unfold there," Rice said. "They've said that they do not want a humanitarian crisis and that they understand the need to permit fuel and electricity in Gaza, so we will see." She added.

Source: ATF and Agencies

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