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Gaza in crisis: Israel turns away UN food convoy at border; blackouts as power plant shuts down

Nov. 13, 2008 3:29 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 13, 2008 3:29 P.M.)
Gaza - Ma'an - Israel went back on a pledge to ease its blockade of the Gaza Strip on Thursday, turning away critical deliveries of fuel and food at the borders for the seventh consecutive day.

In reneging on its pledge, Israel blocked delivery of United Nations food aid intended for 750,000 Palestinians.

Gaza was plunged into darkness as the territory's only power plant shut down at 6:00pm local time due to a lack of fuel. Just before dark, Palestinans went into the streets in a frantic search for candles and bread.

As night fell, sirens sounded accross the Gaza Strip in protest of the closure.

Earlier in the day, 20 European consuls who planned to visit Gaza were turned away at the Erez border crossing. Aid workers were also denied entry to the Strip and medical patients were prevented from entering Israel for treatment.

John Ging, the director of UN operations in Gaza, warned of an impending "humanitarian disaster" if Israel continues to bar food and other supplies from the territory.

"We cannot describe the situation in the Gaza Strip except as a terrible and terrifying one. There are 750,000 refugees who depend on what we offer them in food supplies. Israel is preventing us from distributing these supplies," he told Ma'an.

Ging said UN food storehouses are nearly empty. He said the Israeli closure, in that it punishes civilians, is a violation of international law.

Pledge reversed

On Wednesday Israel had pledged to allow minimum shipments of fuel and 33 truckloads of food into Gaza.

Ra'ed Fattouh, coordinator of the border crossings department in the Palestinian government in Gaza, said that his agency was informed by Israel on Wednesday evening its intention to open the Kerem Shalom crossing to allow the 33 truckloads of food to cross.

However, the trucks were turned away at 1pm Thursday afternoon.

Eight of the trucks contained sesame oil, milk and canned meats intended to be shipped to UNRWA, the UN's relief agency for Palestinian refugees, which is responsible for feeding 750,000 Palestinians in Gaza.

UNRWA announced earlier this week that its food program would be forced to shut down if food was not delivered by Friday.

Nine of the trucks contained dairy products and six contained frozen meat, also sent by humanitarian organizations.

Blackouts

Member of Parliament Jamal Al-Khudari, the Chairman of the Popular Committee Against the Siege said that the Gaza Strip's sole power plant would shut down at 6:30pm local time on Thursday due to a lack of industrial fuel.

Al-Khudari said that the resulting power cuts would also disrupt critical health, water, and sanitation services, endangering the health and life of thousands of Gaza residents.

The power plant was already shut down for two days this week because of the fuel blockade, leaving hundreds of thousands in darkness.

Al-Khudari held a candle-light press conference in Gaza just after sunset, condemning Israel's punishment of the civilian population of Gaza as a violation of international law.

Bakeries shutting down

Bakeries will likely shut down on Thursday because of a lack of cooking gas due to the blockade, said Abdel Nasser Al-Ajrami, the head of the Bakeries' Owners' Federation in Gaza.

Al-Ajrami told Ma'an that that 13 bakeries out of 30 in the association have already shut down.

He noted that each bakery has its own emergency supplies of gas which could last a few more days, but many have already run out.

Al-Khudari, at his press conference, said that the remaining bakeries would likely shutdown with the beginning of the blackouts.

***Updated at 20:16 local time

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