Food distribution to half the Gaza Strip's 1.5 million population resumed today although the United Nations warned aid supplies would soon run out unless Israel eases its crippling blockade. "Distribution will go on of the very small amount we brought in on Monday," said UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) spokesman Chris Gunness. "The supplies will last days, not weeks," he said. Crowds rushed to the UNRWA distribution centres to try to get hold of the limited supplies of flour, sugar, rice, powder milk and luncheon meat.
"I can't wait to receive the aid. Our lives are in ruins," said Um Said, 60, who with her husband looks after 15 children and grandchildren. The first shipment of supplies in two weeks arrived on Monday, making it possible to resume food distribution after a four-day interruption. However, Israel sealed off the impoverished Palestinian territory again today, citing continuing violence. Israeli armoured vehicles, which rolled into southern Gaza for what the military said was a routine search for explosive devices along the border fence, came under mortar attack from Palestinian gunmen.
Israel responded to a recent surge in rocket and mortar attacks by completely sealing off Gaza on Nov 5, preventing delivery of the basic supplies that had been allowed in under a blockade imposed after the Islamist Hamas movement seized control of the territory in June 2007. Amid mounting pressure from the international community, Israel last week allowed some industrial fuel to be delivered to Gaza's sole power plant and yesterday it let in 33 truckloads of humanitarian and other basic supplies.
UNRWA, which feeds 750,000 people in the impoverished sliver of land, said thousands of dollars worth of powder milk were lost after Israeli officials slashed the packages for inspection. "Babies should not be punished by being deprived of milk. I am not aware of babies firing rockets or baby milk being used to power rockets," said Mr Gunness. He also said food would run out in days unless new supplies are allowed in. Israeli officials indicated the crossings into Gaza were to remain closed today.
"This decision has been taken by defence minister Ehud Barak because of the continued Palestinian rocket fire at southern Israel," said Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman. At least six rockets were fired at southern Israel yesterday, without causing any casualties. In the past two weeks, Israeli forces and Gaza militants have engaged in almost daily tit-for-tat attacks, which left 15 Palestinian gunmen dead.
Israel had been expected to ease its blockade of the overcrowded territory after a truce went into effect on June 19, but it says continuing rocket and mortar attacks make this impossible. Hamas accuses Israel of failing to deliver on its side of the bargain. "Civilians continue to pay the price of conflict and violence and their access to humanitarian assistance is at stake," the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, pointing out that more than half of Gaza's population are children.
Israel and the Islamist rulers of Gaza have accused each other of violating the ceasefire, while the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on all parties to exercise restraint and uphold international law. The Oxfam charity expressed concern that the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband "neglected to address the Gaza blockade during his visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories" on Sunday and Monday.
"Only the bare minimum of goods have been allowed to enter Gaza in the past couple of days and Oxfam fears a serious worsening of the situation if action is not taken," said Oxfam Britain's chief executive, Barbara Stocking. * AFP