- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2008

JERUSALEM — Thousands of Palestinians today attempted to form a human chain this morning spanning the length of the Gaza Strip to protest the Israeli embargo.

Demonstrators gathered near the Erez crossing point on the northern border of Gaza, which is closed to Palestinians, demanding the Israeli government end the blockade of Gaza.

Organizers had hoped to form a human chain running the length of the 25-mile strip, but turnout was well below expectations.

About 5,000 people, many of them schoolchildren and university students, joined the chain outside the town of Beit Hanoun, about four miles from the border, Associated Press reported.

Israel put paramilitary police on standby and boosted surveillance along the Gaza border in anticipation of the protest, fearing Palestinians might try to break through into Israel.

Last month, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza broke through the Rafah border with Egypt, seeking food and fuel supplies, scarce in Gaza under the embargo.

“I joined this chain to deliver our people’s message to the world peacefully, that the siege can be broken if all Palestinians agree to form a national unity government,” said Fadwa Ashour, 17, a high school student and Hamas member from Gaza City.

“After seeing our elderly and children die while waiting to cross the borders and checkpoints, we decided to take peaceful action.”

Palestinians in Gaza have suffered widespread blackouts and shortages of food and other provisions since Israel sealed all crossing points from its territory in response to escalating rocket attacks.

“We formed this chain because Gaza is in a critical situation due to the siege imposed by the Israeli occupation that violates international humanitarian law, it has crushed our economy and destroyed our health care,” said Jamal Al-Khodri, a member of the Palestinian parliament.

“We did not intend to cross the border; we want peace, and we urge the international community to exert pressure on Israel to ease our suffering from the shortages of food and medical supplies,” Mr. Al-Khodri said.

The embargo was instituted in June after Hamas took control of Gaza by force from the Palestinian Authority, which is headquartered in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Col. Zeev Sharoni, an Israeli military spokesman, said authorities did not have any specific warnings of trouble but military officials assured the public that the army was prepared to prevent any breach of the border, AP reported.

Israeli authorities set up checkpoints in southern Israel to prevent motorists from nearing the border fence, and several areas were declared closed military zones.

Israel retained control of all commercial and passenger border crossings to Gaza as well as the airspace and sea space, when it withdrew from Gaza in September 2005.

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