- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

JERUSALEM — Palestinian militants fired rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip yesterday, after a plan to form a 25-mile-long human chain to protest the Israeli embargo of the tiny territory fizzled.

The day began with about 5,000 demonstrators, who gathered outside the northern town of Beit Hanoun amid intermittent rain showers.

The demonstration, organized by the militant Islamic group Hamas, attempted to form a 25-mile-long human chain to span the length of the coastal strip — a feat that would have required tens of thousands.

About 2,000 protesters attempted to march on the Erez crossing near Beit Hanoun, but they were stopped by Palestinian police.

Violence erupted in the afternoon when a small group of Palestinian youths made it to the crossing and began hurling rocks and setting tires ablaze.

Israeli soldiers responded with tear gas and by firing bullets into the air.

Hamas organized the protest in response to widespread blackouts and shortages of food and other provisions since Israel sealed all crossing points from its territory in response to escalating rocket attacks.

Later yesterday, militants fired 11 rockets at southern Israel, the military said. One seriously wounded a 10-year-old boy in the battered town of Sderot, just across the Gaza border, the Associated Press reported.

Doctors said shrapnel cut through the boy’s shoulder, but surgeons were able to save his arm. Earlier this month, an 8-year-old boy in Sderot lost a leg in a rocket attack.

Israeli government spokesman David Baker denounced the daily salvos from Gaza.

“Those who raise their hands against Israeli children will be pursued by Israel, and we will take all measures necessary to prevent such attacks on our civilians,” Mr. Baker said, according to the AP.

Israel put police on standby and boosted surveillance along the Gaza border, fearing Palestinians might try to break into Israel.

Last month, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza broke through the Rafah border with Egypt seeking food and fuel supplies, now 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,” he said.

Jamal Al-Khodri, an independent member of the Palestinian parliament, said demonstrators had no intention of breaking into Israel.

“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 initiated in June after Hamas took control of Gaza by force. Israel subsequently tightened the embargo as daily salvos of rockets increased.

About 1 million people in Gaza depend upon U.N. assistance for basic necessities such as food, said John Ging, director of the U.N. Relief Works Agency in Gaza.

He said the border closures have increased Palestinian dependency on outside aid.


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