Thursday, June 21, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES EREZ CROSSING, Israel — Fears of an impending humanitarian disaster in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip are mounting, with Israel’s military under growing domestic pressure to open border crossings for relief supplies to enter.

Human rights groups petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court, demanding that Israel allow seriously ill and wounded Gazans to reach Israeli hospitals. The court said it would rule Monday.

The United Nations warned of a crisis within a month if Israel didn’t open its commercial crossing with Gaza. The U.N. World Food Program said flour prices have soared 40 percent as residents stockpile food and water.

The Israeli army said it facilitated the passage of food, gasoline and medical supplies, as well as nine patients seeking medical treatment in Israel.

Rights groups said those steps are not sufficient to keep Gaza from a humanitarian implosion.

“You can’t wait until the civilian population is on the verge of catastrophe and then open the borders a little bit,” said Sari Bashi, director of Gisha, a rights group that co-sponsored the court petition.

“Israel needs to open the borders now, because the alternative is slowly choking 1.4 million women, men and children who need food, medical supplies, commercial goods and the ability to travel.”

Shady Yassin, a spokesman for the Israeli liaison office at the Erez checkpoint, said Israel is working with the International Committee of the Red Cross to coordinate passage of civilians and emergency supplies.

“We are acting as a go-between; it’s part of our role,” said Bernard Barrett, a local spokesman for the Red Cross.

For days, Israeli television news broadcasts have led with images of hundreds of Palestinian refugees languishing outside the Israeli entrance to the Erez Crossing — some of them injured in a shootout with Hamas.

“Many Israelis are watching the television news these days with feelings of powerlessness and shame. They see hundreds of haunted and frightened women and children crowding into the corridor of the Erez Crossing,” read an editorial in the Ha’aretz newspaper.

“But the defense establishment sees something else: It sees wanted terrorists about to blow themselves up and Iranian agents,” the newspaper said.

A few of the wounded were granted entry to Israel on Tuesday and yesterday for medical treatment while the dozens if not hundreds of Gazans barred from crossing through Israel to the West Bank refused to leave the border crossing area.

At the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashekelon, one of the Gazans who was permitted to pass through Erez said he blamed both Israelis and Palestinians for his nightmare in Gaza.

“It’s dirty politics between Palestinians and Israelis,” said Nader, who declined to give his first name. “Israel and Abbas are happy about our blood. They want to show to the world what Hamas does.”

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of the rival Fatah party called Hamas fighters “murderous terrorists” in a televised speech.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called Mr. Abbas” remarks “disgusting,” the Associated Press reported from the West Bank city of Ramallah.

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